The University of Maine hockey team put itself in a perilous position heading into the final two games of its season by not sweeping a dreadful Vermont team at home last weekend. The Black Bears entered Saturday night’s game with Providence 1-19-1 against the Friars since the start of the 2013-14 season.
Nate Leaman owns Red Gendron the way Tom Brady owns the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
Those stats continued to hold serve as the Friars skated away with a 3-2 victory in front of just over 2,900 at Schneider Arena.
Maine (17-11-5 overall, 11-9-3 in conference play) now sits in a tie for fourth place with UMass Lowell with 25 Hockey East points. If the season ended right now, that would send the Bears to Tsongas Center for a quarterfinal series based on the head to head tiebreaker that the River Hawks own.
Getting off to a good start is imperative on the road, in particular against a team that has your number, and the Black Bears failed to do that, falling behind 2-0 in the second period.
Adrien Bisson’s second-period goal gave Maine some life, but the Friars put it away with a power-play tally a half-minute into the final period. Maine hasn’t won in Rhode Island’s state capital since 2010.
Thanks to UMass Lowell earning a win and a tie with UNH and UConn and UMass splitting a home-and-home, Maine is on the outside looking in when it comes to home-ice advantage in the opening round. The Minutemen are along in the No. 2 slot, followed by UConn, UML and the Black Bears.
Boy, do those two ugly losses to UConn and that inexcusable tie to Vermont look huge now?
This was the perfect time for Maine to take advantage of the Friars, who had been swept by woeful Merrimack last weekend. The teams are fairly equal in terms of talent, but Old Town native Leaman outcoached Gendron. Again.
The teams will meet again in Orono on Friday. It’s still mathematically possible for the Black Bears to be playing at the Alfond two weekends from now, but they need a lot of help.
First, Maine needs to find a way to beat its nemesis. Which it certainly can do at home. The Bears are 12-1-3 on home ice this season.
The Black Bears need to take care of business and not rely on anyone else. UConn travels to UMass Lowell, also Friday. A Maine win gives the Bears 27 points. The UConn/Lowell winner will likely finish third, provided UMass takes care of Vermont at home on Thursday.
Should the River Hawks and Huskies tie and Maine win, the Bears and Huskies will finish tied, giving UConn the No. 3 seed and Maine the No. 4 slot. Boston University is also lurking, but Maine owns the tiebreaker with the Terriers, who can’t pass the Black Bears. BU, which sits at 23 points in league play has a home-and-home with reeling Northeastern next weekend.
Ohh, then there’s those Friars, which will leapfrog Maine with a win in Orono Friday, keeping both those clubs at 25 points.
What does that equate to? Maine can finish anywhere from fourth to seventh. The Bears will make the Hockey East playoffs no matter what, as ninth-place UNH can’t pass Maine even if it sweeps Boston College, which has clinched the top seed in the league. The only team Maine is guaranteed to not see in the opening round is the top-ranked Eagles.
If Maine can’t beat Providence at home, it deserves to play on the road in two weeks. It’s as simple as that. The Black Bears have the talent and capability to get it done at home, but Red Gendron has to have his club ready to play.
Remember the end of Gendron’s first season when Maine was in the same scenario and was swept at home by – you guessed it – Providence? If they don’t want to be known as the same old Black Bears who can’t come through in the clutch, they have to start fast and keep the crowd involved in the game.
My gut feeling thinks Maine will find a way to cook up some Alfond magic.
BY RYAN MCLAUGHLIN