ORONO – More than three weeks have passed since Maine opened the regular season against Hockey East opponent UMass-Lowell, and quite a bit has changed since then.

Maine has dropped from seventh to 12th, then shot back to sixth in the two national polls, by virtue of two wins over a national power.

The Black Bears’ coaches juggled the lineup to create more of an offensive punch, and all three goalies have played in Maine’s six games, including five against nonconference opponents.

“We got right out of the gate there with Lowell, which is different, to start the season with a league game,” Maine left wing Brian Flynn said. “Hopefully we carry some momentum from the series against North Dakota, and hopefully it will give us some confidence to know we can play at that level.”

Now, the Black Bears believe they’re prepared to continue their Hockey East schedule. Maine will play its first league game in 22 days when it faces Vermont at 7 tonight at Gutterson Field House in Burlington, Vt.

“We really gained a lot of experience over the last five games,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. “If you count (the exhibition) against Acadia, that’s six nonconference games that’s given us a chance to look at everything.”

Entering this weekend, Maine is one of five Hockey East teams that has played just one league game. Northeastern has played four, Boston University, UMass-Lowell and Providence have played three and Massachusetts two.

Maine followed its opening 8-2 win over UMass-Lowell with five nonconference games, including a 3-3 tie with Connecticut of the Atlantic Hockey Association and a 4-4 tie and a 3-2 loss at Michigan State of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Last weekend’s two-game sweep of No. 8 North Dakota — ranked second in the country at the time — helped to confirm the revitalization of Maine’s program.

“It will give our players some confidence and it reaffirms that we stuck to our game plan, and that we need to play as a team,” Whitehead said. “We have to stay in our systems to be successful.”

But Hockey East teams, Spencer Abbott said, are different from the Black Bears’ past two opponents, and the biggest challenge will be for the Black Bears to adjust to a different style of game.

“There’s going to be less contact,” said Abbott, who enters the weekend as Hockey East’s leading scorer with 11 points (five goals, six assists).

“North Dakota was a very physical, big team and a lot of Hockey East teams are more small and fast. It will be a tough switch. It’s going to be a different change of pace.”

And while the nonconference wins and losses help to determine potential NCAA tournament berths, the Hockey East schedule has just as much weight, if not more.

“We expect more or less of the same thing,” junior defenseman Will O’Neill said. “We just have to be ready for what’s coming at us. Hockey East points are enormous. We have to come out skating and know that we have to get ourselves in a good position.”

 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at: [email protected]