PORTLAND – After practice Friday at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the University of Maine hockey team headed to the Family Ice Center in Falmouth for a little goodwill.

First, the players and coaches gave a clinic for Casco Bay Youth Hockey players, then participated in a public skate for an hour, signing autographs, posing for photographs and just hanging around.

The public relations ends tonight when the Black Bears (3-6-2) conclude their annual trip to Portland with a 7 p.m. game against Clarkson (7-4-3) at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“We love playing in Portland,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. “We seem to win there every year. It’s a special game for us. The crowd is great. I think it energizes the players.”

Maine is 11-0-3 in its last 14 games at the Civic Center, including two exhibition victories against the U.S 18-under team.

The Black Bears could use some energy tonight. They are on a five-game winless streak (0-4-1).

“We played pretty well in our last game but not well enough to win,” Whitehead said of a 2-2 tie at Massachusetts. “So we still have another step to take.”

Another positive sign, Whitehead hopes, is the play of goalie Dan Sullivan. He was yanked Nov. 4 in a 5-1 loss to Boston College, then gave up four goals in the third period two weeks ago, losing to UMass-Lowell, 4-3.

Against Massachusetts, Sullivan made 33 saves.

“That was a good step,” Whitehead said.

Maine also needs to improve in special teams and staying out of the penalty box. The Black Bears rank third in the league in penalty minutes and have allowed 13 goals on 60 power plays (78.3 percent penalty kill).

On its own power play, Maine is only at 18.4 percent (9 of 49).

Maine continues to get most of its scoring from the top line of Brian Flynn (five goals/10 assists), Spencer Abbott (5/8) and Joey Diamond (6/5).

Clarkson played Maine only once in the past 11 years but will meet the Black Bears twice this season.

Besides tonight, the Knights will take on Maine in the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla., near Fort Myers on Dec. 29. The teams’ last two meetings were also in the Florida tournament, with Maine winning in 2000 and 2007.

Maine also faced the Knights in 1999 in an NCAA regional final in Worcester, Mass. Steve Kariya scored three goals and added three assists in a 7-2 win that sent the Black Bears to the Frozen Four, which they won.

This year’s Clarkson’s team has a couple of Boston Bruins draft picks — senior forward Nick Tremblay (sixth round, 2008) and Ben Sexton (seventh round, 2009).

Clarkson goalie Paul Karpowich, a seventh-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2008, has a 1.76 goals-against average.

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

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