ORONO – They skated casually onto the Alfond Arena ice Thursday afternoon, easy-going tunes playing over the loudspeaker. The University of Maine hockey team eventually worked on some plays, but the Black Bears were not going to go all-out in practice.

Tonight, the Black Bears will be anything but casual as they play top-ranked Boston College at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The weekend’s action will conclude Saturday night against another rival, New Hampshire, at the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H.

UNH (2-4-1, 1-3 in Hockey East) is off to a slow start, but picked up its first league win last weekend. While the Wildcats are usually tough at home, there is no question which game presents the greater obstacle.

BC is 7-1 overall and 5-0 in Hockey East. The Eagles are ranked No. 1 in both the USA Today and USCHO polls. Their only loss is to No. 8 Denver.

Maine (3-2-1, 3-1) is ranked 20th by USCHO and is among those receiving votes in the USA Today poll.

Tonight, the visiting Black Bears will be the ones booed by the BC students. But it will be the Eagles with a target on their back.

“Beating the No. 1 team is definitely something that we want to do,” said senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty.

BC is again loaded with several players already picked in the NHL draft, including junior defenseman Brian Dumoulin of Biddeford. Dumoulin, a second-round pick by Carolina, has two goals and six assists.

In Hockey East, the Eagles are first or second in scoring (4.5 goals per game), scoring defense (2.38), power-play percentage (22.9) and penalty killing (90.5).

“We know what we’re up against,” said junior defense-man and alternate captain Mike Cornell. “We obviously have a lot of respect for them. But at the same time, we want to go down and surprise them.”

Maine coach Tim Whitehead said BC “looks very good, very strong at all positions. No weak links.”

But Whitehead is pleased how his team is coming along, especially after the Black Bears swept Providence last weekend, including an overtime win Friday.

“I like our toughness, mentally and physically,” Whitehead said. “This past weekend, we fought through two very challenging games and found ways to win.”

Senior Brian Flynn leads Maine with three goals and six assists. Dan Sullivan (2.28 goals-against average) and Martin Ouellette (2.98) have each played three games in net.

Maine is in third place in Hockey East, behind BC and Merrimack. The Black Bears rank sixth in the league in scoring (3.17) and third in defense (2.67).

UNH, tied for seven place in the league standings, was winless in its first five games, four of them on the road. Since then, UNH has beaten Union 2-1 and Northeastern 5-2 – both at home.

“This will be a very good test to see where we’re at,” Whitehead said. “We learned a lot on our last road trip, to North Dakota (a loss and a tie). We played quite well in a tough environment. We’re looking at this in a similar way. Win, lose or draw, we’re going to be a better team.”

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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