ORONO — The University of Maine hockey team has handled this kind of adversity before. Many times before, and even a couple times in the past year, as the Black Bears were without a few of their key performers during the 2010 Hockey East playoffs, as well as during a three-week stretch in January.

Now, less than two months into the 2010-2011 season, the Black Bears will have to work through a stretch in which they’ve lost a handful of players to injuries.

UMaine opens a two-game series tonight against Northeastern. The Black Bears (4-1-3, 2-0-1 Hockey East) are ranked fifth in both national polls but have spent the past week without five players because of various injuries, including senior center and captain Tanner House (upper body).

The Black Bears lost junior defenseman Will O’Neill after he suffered a lower-body injury in his second shift last Saturday in a 2-2 tie at No. 1 Boston University.

Sophomore right wing Joey Diamond sustained a lower-body injury during Saturday’s tie, but returned to play in overtime.

O’Neill will be out for four to six weeks, while House and Diamond are questionable for this weekend’s series against the Huskies.

They skated but didn’t participate in contact drills this week in practice.

“It’s always challenging in college hockey when you can’t call on a (junior varsity) program or a minor league team,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. “But that’s part of the game, and we need to deal with that reality and put players in expanded roles.”

Whitehead and his staff spent Wednesday and Thursday pinpointing which players would fill each of the holes in the lineup.

“It’s a pretty big challenge,” assistant captain Jeff Dimmen said. “We have some of our best players struggling through injuries.

“Losing (O’Neill) really hurt us but I think one of our strengths this year is our depth. When Tanner went down there was another guy ready to fill in. (Kelen Corkum) jumped in and played great. Klas (Leidermark) stepped up on the first line and I think that’s one of the things that can help us this year, that we’re a lot deeper.

“If somebody gets hurt, another guy is ready to step in. Not just to fill a spot, but to make an impact.”

The Black Bears could get some reinforcements for this weekend.

Junior forward Theo Andersson (lower body) and freshman center Carlos Amestoy (shoulder) are available to return to the lineup.

What the Black Bears have to do, however, is adjust to new roles in the lineup and prepare accordingly.

“The BU game, I thought a couple guys really stepped up and they’ve been great at stepping in and filling those roles of some of the big-time players,” Maine goalie Dan Sullivan said. “So that’s going be the main thing. No matter who’s out, guys are going to be paying attention in practice, they’re going to know their roles, they’re going to be able to step in there and do that job. Having an easy transition, that’s going to be the biggest thing.”

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

[email protected]