Nolan Vesey sees hope for his University of Maine hockey team, which plays Boston University this weekend – at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Orono, and 7 p.m. Saturday in Portland.

“We’ve never beaten them during my time here,” said Vesey, a senior forward from North Reading, Massachusetts.

“This year, we know we can play with them.”

Pretty bold talk for the captain of a team that is 3-5 overall, 2-2 in Hockey East. But this is a Black Bears team on the rise, even with a 1-3 record in their last four games.

“When you look at it, the last two weekends, we’ve been much better defensively,” Maine Coach Red Gendron said.

In their first four games – series splits with Connecticut and Miami – Maine allowed 18 goals. The Black Bears halved that against nationally-ranked Minnesota-Duluth (2-1 and 2-0 losses) and UMass-Lowell (3-2 loss, 6-2 win).

“We had a great weekend against Duluth,” Vesey said. “Unfortunately, we lost, but it gave us confidence that we can beat anybody in the country.

“Against Lowell, we threw that Friday night game away. But we came back strong Saturday. That was a good sign.”

Duluth is ranked No. 14 in the USCHO poll. Boston University (5-6, 3-3) is No. 18.

The Terriers, preseason favorites to win Hockey East, have had their stumbles (including a recent two-game sweep by Northeastern), but romped past No. 11 New Hampshire 4-0 last Saturday.

“We may not be the favorites,” sophomore forward Chase Pearson said, “but we’ll compete.

“Our defense is 100 percent improved. Offensively, in those (losses) to Duluth and Lowell, we’ve got to find a way to win in those situations.”

Pearson will be part of that search for goals. He is among the wave of young players Gendron has brought in the past two years.

Pearson, a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, is Maine’s scoring tri-leader with seven points (all assists), along with his linemates, sophomore Mitchell Fossier (four goals, three assists) and freshman Eduards Tralmaks (five goals, two assists).

Tralmaks, called “Trails” by his teammates, is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound native of Latvia who played juniors in the U.S. the past three years.

“He’s a big body. He’s not afraid of getting dirty, and he has a lot of skill with that,” Pearson said. “Size, skill, and he takes the puck to the net … it’s a lethal combination.”

The defensive corps has been infused with youth, as three freshmen and sophomore Patrick Holway (another Red Wings draft pick) are among the regulars.

The group can also score, led by junior Rob Michel (two goals, four assists) and freshman Brady Keeper (two goals, two assists).

“It’s the strongest D-corps we’ve had in terms of depth and what guys can do,” Vesey said.

Maine has used two goalies every weekend – junior Rob McGovern (3.87 goals-against average) and freshman Jeremy Swayman (2.87).

Boston University is paced by sophomore forward Patrick Harper, a Nashville Predators draft pick, with five goals and six assists. Junior forward Bobo Carpenter has 10 points.

Unlike last year, when the Black Bears played three times at Cross Insurance Arena, this will be Maine’s only Portland appearance this season. About 2,000 tickets are available.

After this weekend, the Black Bears take their longest road trip, for the Friendship Four tournament Nov. 24-25 in Northern Ireland. Maine will play Providence College the first day, then either Clarkson or RPI the second day.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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