ORONO — The University of Maine hockey team has positioned itself well to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

But it is not a sure thing, yet.

Maine can control its fate this weekend by winning the Hockey East tournament and receiving an automatic bid.

A win over Boston University in Friday’s semifinal would almost ensure an at-large bid to the tournament.

A loss Friday and several upsets in other conference tournaments could knock Maine out.

The Black Bears (22-12-3) are ranked 10th in the latest Pairwise Rankings, the system that mirrors the formula used by the NCAA selection committee. The system takes into account a team’s record, strength of schedule and results against other contending teams.

The NCAA committee will invite 16 teams to its tournament that begins March 23. Five teams will receive automatic invitations for winning their conference tournaments, leaving 11 at-large invitations.

If Maine dropped in the rankings, and enough poorly-ranked teams surprisingly won their conference tournaments, then the Black Bears could be in trouble. (For more on the Pairwise Rankings, see www.uscho.com)

While it is likely that Maine will make it, no one is looking ahead.

Maine has three reasons to be motivated for the Hockey East final four at the TD Garden this Friday and Saturday.

Secure an NCAA bid.

Attain a high seed in the NCAA’s.

Win the league championship for the first time since 2004.

“(The NCAA) is not all that matters. We want to win Hockey East,” senior Spencer Abbott said.

Top-seed Boston College (27-10-1) will be favored. Since the Eagles were swept in Orono on Jan. 21-22, they have gone 14-0.

Boston University (23-13-1) was also swept by the Black Bears in January, and has gone 8-5 since.

Maine Coach Tim Whitehead likes the way his team is playing, and said he has Merrimack to thank for it.

After the Warriors beat the Black Bears 5-2 Saturday in the second game of the playoff series, the glass half-full Whitehead said it was wonderful.

“We told the guys, this is a good thing going to Game 3,” Whitehead said. “Merrimack is forcing us to sharpen our saw even more. They forced us to bring our game to a higher level.

“We executed our game plan real well. We just kept pushing, kept pushing. (Merrimack) wouldn’t quit. And we wouldn’t either.

“Our execution, our discipline and our compete level all improved.”

Abbott agreed.

“We watched some video (Sunday morning) and tried to learn from our mistakes on Saturday — we had quite a few of them,” Abbott said. “We were really focused.”

The Black Bears took Monday off. They get back to focusing today.

THE HOCKEY EAST awards will be announced Thursday in Boston.

Abbott, the nation’s leading scorer with 59 points, is a candidate for Player of the Year. Maine has not had a player win the award since Chris Imes in 1995.

Black Bears forward Matt Mangene is a likely candidate for best defensive forward, which Maine’s Tanner House won last year.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH