The University of Maine men's hockey team is pictured during a game in October 2017. The Black Bears will be back on the ice for full practices starting next week in preparation for what they hope will be a 2020-2021 season. Credit: Mark Tutuny Photo

The University of Maine men’s hockey team has been practicing for a month, but has this week off.

Coach Red Gendron’s Black Bears hope to continue the momentum from last season, which was canceled because of the coronavirus just prior to UMaine hosting a scheduled Hockey East quarterfinal series against the University of Connecticut at Alfond Arena in Orono.

Last week was the first time UMaine held a normal practice with all the players participating. They adhered to social distancing protocols.

Previously, they were divided into smaller pods of players.

The Black Bears have been going through eight-hour practice weeks that included four hours on the ice and four hours off with coaches involved. Beginning Monday, they will extend to 20 hours per week.

Hockey East hasn’t announced a timetable for games or a schedule yet and Gendron said he needs to make sure he doesn’t wear his players down mentally by having too many weeks of practices before they actually play a game.

UMaine likely wouldn’t begin playing games until the latter part of November, if indoor intersquad competitions are allowed under the state’s community sports guidelines. At present, teams may only participate in practices or scrimmages among their own players.

Gendron said UMaine players have handled the COVID-19 restrictions exceptionally well.

“They just want to play,” he said.

Gendron added that he has been inspired by the way university administrators have dealt with the challenges of the COVID-19 situation.

In other news around the college hockey world, Long Island University will debut this year as the 61st Division I program in the country. St. Thomas University in Minnesota will move up to Division I for the 2021-22 season and will be a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

This will be the last season for the University of Alaska-Anchorage, which will lose its program due to budget cuts.

“It’s wonderful to see new programs but it’s too bad Alaska-Anchorage is on its way out,” Gendron said. “In general, hockey has expanded. Long Island and St. Thomas are coming in and there could be others.”

He is pleased that the sport appears to be gaining momentum.

“What’s important is hockey is growing. It’s more popular all across the country now,” Gendron said. “They’re going to have a Frozen Four in Las Vegas.”

The Big Ten has announced that its seven schools will play each other four times for a 24-game conference schedule and each will host Division I independent Arizona State for four games. They could start playing as soon as Nov. 13.