WORCESTER, Mass. – Matt Mangene was somewhere between hurt and pain. At some point, he’ll remember the victories and the good times of the 2011-12 college hockey season.

But not late Saturday night. He wasn’t close to being there. None of his University of Maine teammates were.

Not after Minnesota-Duluth scored five unanswered goals to abruptly end Maine’s season in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. The team that did more with less came up empty. Maine lost, 5-2.

“I know what we accomplished,” said Mangene, quietly. “I’ll think of that later.”

He and many of his teammates will move on. Will you? You’ve got choices. If you want to appreciate what Maine hockey did this season, hang on to the Hockey East semifinal win over Boston University.

Spencer Abbott is down on all fours, unable to get up after an elbow to the head, unable to help his teammates play defense. Boston University scores to tie the game.

And Maine’s Mark Anthoine comes right back with the goal that wins the game.

If you’re a Tim Whitehead critic, you’ll use the loss to Minnesota-Duluth as more ammunition. Maine took just three shots in the third period, which is no one’s definition of desperation hockey or maintaining poise.

Which game best represents this season? I’ll take the Hockey East semifinals.

Maine had less depth, less size and less overall talent than the two measuring sticks it went up against in last two games. Boston College, which beat Maine in the Hockey East final, won the national championship two years ago and is ranked No. 1 in the nation. Minnesota-Duluth took the title last year.

Although one Maine player after another wouldn’t say the been-there done-that thing was a factor or an advantage.

“When you get down to it, it was just another hockey game,” said Mangene. Freshman forward Stu Higgins wasn’t ready to hoist Minnesota-Duluth atop its own pedestal, either. Boston College and Boston University are equals, and Maine beat both Hockey East rivals twice during the regular season.

This wasn’t disrespect. It was denial. No hockey team can skate onto the ice before a game thinking the other team has an advantage. Even if there is one.

The media are not permitted inside locker rooms during the NCAA tournament. Request a player and he meets you in the corridor. Every Maine player who walked into the corridor had the same look of raw hurt.

You prepare yourself to win, not to lose.

Will O’Neill, Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn, Ryan Hegarty, Theo Andersson and third-string goalie Josh Seeley stayed at Maine all four years. “People thought we were done and out after (starting the season) 3-6-2,” said Higgins. “Then we had that meeting and those (seniors) were awesome.”

They’re three-dimensional people, not players in a video game.

Only they know how many times they had to pull more out of their bodies and minds to rise in the polls, reach the Hockey East semifinals and get the NCAA playoff bid.

Throw in the uncertainty over Abbott and his concussion. They weren’t only concerned about a teammate. They cared about a friend.

His return and the lift he provided powered the Black Bears to that 2-0 lead. But they emptied their gas tanks against the defending national champs. There’s mental and emotional fatigue and physical fatigue, and this time a mixture of all three.

Minnesota-Duluth knew how to close out this win. The Bulldogs had learned how to throw their weight around and did. None of Maine’s players had been to the NCAA playoffs. They had some learning to do.

“This time of year, playing catch-up hockey is death” said Scott Sandelin after Friday’s practice at the DCU Arena. The Minnesota-Duluth coach also knew he had the been-there done-that players who could help their teammates climb out of a hole.

After the loss, Whitehead watched his players speak and return to the locker room. His seniors will be gone, of course.

The hope is, Mangene, Joey Diamond, Adam Shemansky, Mike Cornell and others took to heart the lessons learned from the Leadership 101 class they all lived through.

Hope? It should be the expectation.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]