Who expected the University of Maine men’s hockey team to be 5-2-1 eight games into the season? Certainly not any of us at the Sports Chowdah, especially after the first weekend of the season in which the Black Bears got drubbed by Providence and New Brunswick by an aggregate 12-0.
That’s all ancient history now. There are many believers in Black Bear Nation. The target on head coach Red Gendron’s back is slowly getting smaller.
The Black Bears took three Hockey East points from rival Boston University over the weekend, posting a 4-2 victory on Friday before the teams skated to a 2-2 tie on Saturday. Three out of four points is a great weekend for Maine.
It’s only November, but this team is currently ninth in the PairWise rankings that mimic college hockey’s NCAA Tournament selection process, and is second in Hockey East at 2-1-1.
The Black Bears have taken advantage of a fairly weak schedule. The win over Quinapiac (4-3 record) on the road was impressive. Maine has two of their wins against Alaska Anchorage (1-4-1 record) one versus Vermont (1-5 record,) and one as mentioned against Boston University (2-2-3 record.)
If all goes well at first-place UMass Lowell (6-2-2 record) next weekend, the Black Bears could be sitting in first place in Hockey East heading into the final pre-Christmas home series against border rival New Hampshire.
Who would’ve thunk that just a month ago?
Yes, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played and UMaine’s young defensemen are still growing. But junior Jeremy Swayman is playing arguably the best hockey of his career, having posted a .942 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average in seven starts. The Boston Bruins draft pick has been a brick wall in net since the season-opening 7-0 loss to Providence.
The Black Bears have given fans some hope, but we’ll learn a lot about this team over the next several weeks.
Following the next four games with Lowell and UNH? Road trips to Northeastern, St. Lawrence, UMass and Yale. After the UNH series, UMaine won’t play at home again until Dec. 29
The Huskies have been one of the consistent teams in Hockey East over the last few years under Jim Madigan. St. Lawrence isn’t one of the nation’s top teams, but that bus trip from Orono to Canton, New York – 410 miles – is quite tedious. UMass was a Frozen Four team a year ago, and Yale is always in the mix in the ECAC.
If the Black Bears can get through that stretch and keep their record above .500, they should be happy. But for now fans should be happy with what they have seen from this team.
By Ryan McLaughlin and Jeff Solari