The University of Maine hockey team got to feel good about itself last week, with an exhibition win over the U.S. under-18 team and a nonconference victory over an average Clarkson team.

Now the Black Bears have a chance to pick up league wins.

Maine (4-6-2, 3-5-1 in Hockey East) plays a pair of games at last-place Vermont (3-8-1, 1-6-1), tonight and Saturday night.

Coaches always talk about league road games being difficult, but these are vital games for the Black Bears if they are to make a run in Hockey East. Anything less than a win and a tie will be a big disappointment.

And a sweep sure would be nice for Maine before a home game against Boston University next week.

“I’m sure they’re looking at us like we’re looking at them, as an opportunity to move up in the standings,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. “Hopefully we’ll win a couple there.”

The good news for Maine: Vermont ranks last in the league in goals (2.25 per game) and goals allowed (4.00)

Vermont is rebuilding with young players. The Catamounts dress as many as 12 freshmen and sophomores.

“This is all valuable experience, as difficult as it is to go through,” Vermont Coach Kevin Sneddon told the Burlington Free Press. The freshmen “are playing in a lot of key situations; they’re getting better and better, and it’s just a matter of time.”

That time may be coming. Vermont looks to be improving, going 2-1 in its last three games, all home. One of those wins was a 2-1 decision against Massachusetts.

Maine is 0-4-1 in its last five league games. The Black Bears’ offense ranks only eighth in the league (2.83 goals per game), and their defense is seventh (allowing 3.17 goals).

Usually when Maine plays a two-game series, goalies Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette split the games. But Sullivan has started Maine’s last two official games — 35 saves against UMass, 30 against Clarkson — and may get the call both nights this weekend.

NOTES: The Maine women (9-5-1, 4-3-1) are in fourth place in Hockey East. The Black Bears are home against second-place Boston College (10-4-1, 5-2-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. … Among the Hockey East awards last week was Boston College freshman goalie Brian Billett being named Defensive Player of the Week. Billett, a Kennebunk High graduate who played for the New England Junior Monarchs, made 31 saves in his debut — a 3-2 victory against Yale. … Hockey East championship tickets go on sale at 11 a.m. Saturday at the TD Garden box office, or through Ticketmaster ( The semifinals are March 16 and the championship game is March 17. … Tickets to the women’s semifinals and final March 4-5 at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center are on sale now. See for information.

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

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Twitter: KevinThomasPPH