From left, Jeremy Swayman, coach Red Gendron and Ryan Smith. Credit: Composite image

It won’t take University of Maine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron long to evaluate his team.

By Sunday evening, he will have a good idea what is in store this season for the Black Bears.

That’s because UMaine opens its schedule with two formidable opponents this weekend.

Instead of opening the season with an exhibition game against a Canadian team before playing a regular-season game, UMaine plays a Hockey East game Saturday at Providence College and hosts a Sunday exhibition contest against the University of New Brunswick.

Providence reached the NCAA Frozen Four last season, losing to eventual national champion Minnesota Duluth 4-1. New Brunswick won its fifth Canadian national championship in the last nine years.

Providence, the 2015 national champion, has made six straight NCAA tournament appearances.

“Everyone knows what Providence brings to the table and the University of New Brunswick has had, arguably, the best program in Canada over the last decade,” Gendron said. “Our guys will be challenged.”

UMaine will be able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the team and individual players.

“We’ll have an idea about the pecking order,” Gendron said, referring to the team’s depth chart.

Gendron can suit up only 19 skaters and three goalies against Providence but the players who don’t dress for the Providence game, and the regulars, will play Sunday since it is an exhibition game.

Junior goalie Jeremy Swayman said it is pretty cool to play two top-notch programs right off the bat.

“There won’t be any chance to shake off the rust,” he said.

“It will be a real good test for us,” agreed senior right wing Ryan Smith. “We’ll see what we’re made of. We’ve worked hard in the offseason.”

UMaine and Providence won’t play again until the last two weekends of the regular season, Feb. 29 at Providence and March 6 in Orono.

“It will be cool to play the first game of the regular season and the last game to see how the teams have grown,” Providence coach and former UMaine and Old Town High School assistant Nate Leaman said.

It is Homecoming Weekend at Providence and Leaman said the game is sold out.

“There will be a good environment,” Leaman added.

The game resulted from a compromise between Gendron and Leaman that will meet the needs of both teams. They were originally scheduled to play a single game in Providence on the first weekend in January.

Gendron was looking to find an open weekend to schedule a two-game non-conference series with Omaha and Leaman wanted to appease his athletic administration by hosting a game on Homecoming weekend.

Leaman said he couldn’t find a non-conference opponent willing to play on Saturday. So Gendron agreed to play Providence on its Homecoming and the Black Bears will entertain Omaha Jan. 3, 2020, in Orono and on Jan. 4, 2020, at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.