The University of Maine men’s and women’s ice hockey teams may wind up playing all of their games on the road this season.
At issue is Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people. Mills on Nov. 1 reinstated that limit, which had been set at 100, after a dramatic surge of COVID-19 cases in Maine.
As long as the order is in place, UMaine hockey teams won’t be able to hold intercollegiate games in its home rink, Alfond Arena in Orono.
“Right now with our cases rising, our positivity rate rising, we have been looking hard at what our policies are, including our indoor gathering limit,” Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s commissioner of health and human services, said Friday.
“I think that we’re always concerned about changing those policies when we have this kind of spread. We do recognize that there are some settings that are big and spacious where there might be a way to accommodate public health, but I think at this time we have some concerns,” she said.
University of Maine System spokesperson Dan Demeritt said its leadership has been working with the state about the possibility of playing in the facility.
However, staying under 50 persons is not feasible for ice hockey games. Those events include 42 players, six coaches, four on-ice officials, two equipment managers, two trainers, rink personnel and other essential workers.
“Our partnership with the state is rock solid and our standards on group size limitations strictly adheres to state guidance,” said Demeritt, who explained university officials had hoped the size and unique layout of Alfond Arena might make it a candidate for further consideration.
Mills on Friday said given the present circumstances involving COVID-19, she does not expect to make any exceptions to the executive order in regard to gathering limits.
“We didn’t give an exemption to Oxford Plains Speedway last summer. We didn’t give any exemptions to large facilities of other sorts,” Mills said.
“It’s really hard to make exceptions or stray from the general rules, especially when many states are reducing the indoor gathering limits, not expanding them,” she said.
Earlier this week, UMaine moved a scheduled two-game Hockey East men’s series against New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday to Durham, New Hampshire, to remain in compliance.
“We’re not ready to say there won’t be any Maine home hockey games this season but we will continue to provide safe opportunities for our teams to complete,” Demeritt said.
UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Munday on Nov. 24 paused winter sports competition for two weeks after an undisclosed number of UMaine student-athletes on campus tested positive for the coronavirus. The decision led to the cancellation of some basketball games and forced ice hockey contests to be rescheduled.
UMaine reported that during its hiatus 1,020 student-athletes were tested for COVID-19, with no positive tests. As a result, the winter sports teams resumed normal activities on Tuesday.
The UMaine women’s basketball team is in Rhode Island for scheduled games against Providence and Rhode Island, while both the men’s and women’s hockey teams are in New Hampshire for their series. The women’s team previously was scheduled to play at UNH.
UMaine officials also continue to assess opportunities to host basketball games under state guidelines.
UMaine plays most of its basketball home games at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. It also occasionally uses Memorial Gym on the Orono campus, where the teams practice.
Tyson McHatten, UMaine’s senior associate athletic director for external operations and communications, said both venues are being considered for use this season.
“There is a clearer path to host basketball games,” Demeritt said, referring to the fact there are fewer players and staff needed to hold those contests.
Even so, the women’s basketball home series scheduled for Dec. 19-20 in Orono against Hartford has been moved to West Hartford, Connecticut. Those games will instead be played Dec. 22-23. UMaine also has added a Dec. 20 non-league game at Northeastern.
Women’s basketball doesn’t have another scheduled home game until Jan. 9, 2021, but the men’s basketball squad is slated to entertain New Hampshire for games Jan. 2-3.
The women’s hockey team is scheduled to host Providence on Dec. 18-19, so the venue for that series is up in the air. The next home games for the Black Bear men are Jan. 1-2 against UMass Lowell. UMaine also has a road game Dec. 19 at UMass Lowell.