J.D. Greenway (18) of the University of Maine men's hockey team follows the play during a game last season. Credit: Courtesy of Peter Buehner

The University of Maine men’s hockey team’s season opening Hockey East series against the University of Massachusetts at Alfond Arena in Orono has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

The games had been scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights.

UMaine will instead open its season Nov. 26-27 at the University of Connecticut.

“Today is our first good day in a long time,” UMaine athletics director Ken Ralph said. “I know it has been frustrating for our student-athletes but to now know that they will be able to initiate their seasons has been a piece of news they have been waiting for for a long time.”

The decision about whether to move forward with winter sports was in the hands of UMaine president Joan Ferrini-Mundy.

“We are incredibly proud of our student-athletes and very much want to see our Black Bears begin their winter seasons,” she said. “We are assessing each opportunity for our teams to compete within the context of the rising COVID case counts and the threat of community transmission.

“We are working with our athletic conferences, UMaine athletics, our safety professionals and stakeholders to determine the next steps for our teams,” she added.

UConn was supposed to open against Vermont this weekend but that was postponed due to a number of coronavirus cases at UVM.

Instead, UConn and UMass will play a home-and-home series this weekend.

UMaine and UMass are scheduled to play two non-conference games Feb. 26-27, 2021, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Those will be conference games, although they could be shifted to Orono.

That decision has not been made since Hockey East has implemented a number of “flex” weekends in its schedule that allow teams to make up games that might be postponed due to the pandemic.

“There has been a lot of speculation these past couple of weeks, “UMaine men’s captain Jack Quinlivan said. “No one knew anything. A lot of guys were scared. But now that we have a definite date, we’re super excited.”

The UMaine women’s hockey team will visit Worcester, Massachusetts, on Friday and Saturday to play its season-opening series at Holy Cross.

Ralph is happy the women’s team was given the green light to travel to Holy Cross.

“To know they have been approved to play UConn is pretty darned exciting, especially considering there are so many players at other programs who won’t have a chance to play,” Ralph said.

He was referring to the six Ivy League schools along with Rochester Institute of Technology, Union College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Alaska at Anchorage, which have canceled their hockey seasons.

Ralph said the reason UMaine couldn’t host UMass this weekend was because there were some quirks that couldn’t be finalized.

“We tried everything we could but there were a couple of timing issues that couldn’t be lined up,” he said.

“And we have been ultra-safe,” Ralph added of the focus on safety.

He hopes the women’s hockey team can host UConn for a Nov. 27-28 series, but that if they can’t, they will look for another venue or reschedule.

UMaine men’s coach Red Gendron expressed relief because his team has been working since September.

“There had been so much ambiguity. The players had a lot of questions and I didn’t have any answers,” he said.

Gendron and Ralph said it has been a remarkable collaborative effort among many school administrators and officials, who have made a winter season possible while also acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a fluid scenario that changes daily.

Ralph noted that 12-15 percent of college football games have been canceled or postponed each weekend due to COVID-19 outbreaks. He expects that will also be an issue for winter sports.

The state of Maine has seen a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases along with the rest of the country.

Gendron praised UMaine players for their efforts adhering to safety protocols since returning to campus in September and exhibiting a keen ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape.

“Adaptability is an unbelievable skill to have as a human being as well as an athlete, because life is always changing and you have to be able to deal with those changes,” he said.

Ralph said that since the students will be heading home for the Thanksgiving break and won’t be returning to the campus until the end of January, that will make the Orono campus safer for everyone, including the student-athletes and coaches.