The college hockey season is a grind. It’s a half year test of physical and mental toughness for players and coaches alike. The past five marathon seasons have seen the UMaine Black Bears hit Heartbreak Hill right at this very point. But perhaps this year will finally be different.
Maine has two regular season games left before they enter the Hockey East playoffs. The Black Bears have largely been playing good hockey this semester. They are in third place in the conference standings and as I write this they are nationally ranked at #17.
Most fans are justifiably happy with the results to date.
But now the team is entering the crucial part of the season, or The Red Zone, to steal a football term.
The past five years the Black Bears are just 2-8 to in their final games to wrap up those seasons. That loss of momentum has helped bring on quick conference tourney exits and a miserable post season record of 1-10 the last five years under Red. Thus the nickname for this time of year being The Red Zone is not meant as a compliment.
Now I should note a couple of years ago they decided to let all the Hockey East teams make the playoffs. Maine and UNH were cellar dwellers that year and they played a series that UMaine did win thus giving the Black Bears the right to get swept away as an 8 seed once the actual post season started. I don’t put much stock in that charade.
There was a day this program played for Frozen Four appearances and in National Title games. Now most fans would be thrilled with even one post season series win, which they have never been able to celebrate under Red Gendron.
Seven seasons and a million and a half dollars in head coach salary later, perhaps this will be the year the UMaine wins their final two regular season games and rolls into the playoffs with some confidence and maybe even home ice advantage.
It’s been nearly a decade since the Black Bears played at TD Garden in March. But maybe this will be the year the prodigal team returns to Beantown and perhaps even gets a berth in the NCAA tourney.
If not, the good news is the start of a new marathon season is only about six months away.