The good news for the University of Maine men’s hockey team is the Black Bears, who haven’t played since a 5-1 loss on Jan. 23 at Boston University due to COVID-19 issues, will return to Hockey East play this weekend.
The bad news? They’re traveling to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to take on the nation’s No.1-ranked team, Boston College, at 7 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.
UMaine wasn’t able to practice for 10 days beginning Jan. 24 due to the pandemic. The team returned to practice two weeks ago, but didn’t have enough players available to play safely last weekend.
Head coach Red Gendron said the Black Bears expect to have a full complement of players this weekend — 19 skaters and two goalies — the maximum allowed in college hockey.
“The guys are excited to play. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to go to Boston College,” Gendron said.
“It has been a battle this year. The players have had to adapt and endure and they have done a heck of a job handling it,” Gendron said. “They have learned to be grateful for the opportunity to play.”
Gendron pointed out that teams everywhere, at all levels, have faced ups and downs as COVID-19 has either affected them or upcoming opponents, forcing schedule changes.
“Being able to play isn’t a given anymore,” Gendron said.
He said the Black Bears have looked good in practice and he isn’t worrying about the fact BC has played five games since UMaine played its last one.
There are three weekends left in the regular season before the single-elimination playoffs begin with all 11 teams in the mix.
UMaine (2-7-1) won’t have the opportunity to play everyone because there are five teams they haven’t played yet. In addition to BC, they haven’t played Connecticut, Merrimack, Massachusetts and Northeastern.
If Gov. Janet Mills’ executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people or fewer remains in effect, UMaine’s hockey teams will be the only ones in Hockey East to not play any home games.
For the time being, the UMaine men are focused on 13-3-1 Boston College, whom they swept in Boston with overtime victories, 4-3 and 3-2, last season.
The Eagles, 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, have 13 National Hockey League draft choices to UMaine’s two.
“They have a lot of skilled players and a lot of dimensional speed. We’re going to have to play to our identity,” Gendron said of the Black Bears’ aggressive, physical play all over the ice.
UMaine has regained the services of senior defenseman Cam Spicer, who hasn’t played since the first weekend of the season due to an undisclosed injury.