This weekend may mark the last time the Fighting Irish come to Maine, at least for a while.

The Notre Dame men’s hockey team plays two games against the University of Maine, Friday at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and Saturday at Alfond Arena in Orono. Both games are at 7 p.m.

Since Notre Dame joined Hockey East in 2013, it is 4-1-1 against the Black Bears, including a two-game sweep last year in South Bend, Indiana.

Notre Dame’s inclusion in Hockey East was almost forced after the Irish’s previous conference, the CCHA, dissolved – a result of several teams deserting when the Big Ten decided to add hockey.

Hockey East became a strange grouping of 11 New England schools and one from South Bend.

Last spring, Notre Dame announced that it will leave Hockey East after the 2016-17 season. It will then join the Big Ten for hockey only, easing the travel schedule and pairing it against rivals such as Michigan and Michigan State.

Notre Dame (15-9-4) is ranked 16th in the USCHO national poll, and is in fourth place in Hockey East at 8-5-3.

“A very good team,” said Maine Coach Red Gendron, whose Black Bears are 10-15-3 overall and 4-11-1 in the conference.

The first time these programs met was in Portland, a 5-1 Maine win on Nov. 29, 1991. The Black Bears also beat the Irish the next night in Orono.

The Irish have been national contenders under Coach Jeff Jackson, now in his 12th year. They have reached the NCAA tournament seven times, including the 2008 title game (losing to Boston College).

This season, Notre Dame has been consistently strong. The Irish did split a series with last-place Massachusetts, but also split with first-place Boston College.

Notre Dame is led by two of top scorers in the country in Anders Bjork and Andrew Oglevie (16 goals each) and defenseman Jordan Gross (seven goals, 17 assists). Goalie Cal Petersen has made 78 consecutive starts and is second in the conference with a 2.11 goals-against average.

Maine counters with a competitive team that, simply put, still needs to learn how to win.

“There’s no question about it,” Gendron said. “There are certain things you have to do consistently throughout the entire game.

“We will play well but then deviate from the pieces of our game that are essential for our identity.”

That identity includes grinding away for 60 minutes. But lapses and untimely penalties have cost the Black Bears.

Maine is led by its top line of Cam Brown (26 assists), Blaine Byron (13 goals) and Brendan Robbins (13 points).

Although the Black Bears are 11th among the 12 teams in the conference standings, they have an outside chance of reaching eighth place (and home-ice advantage in the preliminary round of the Hockey East playoffs).

Maine has nine points. Seventh-place Connecticut has 16 points (in 17 games, one more than Maine), followed by New Hampshire (15), Merrimack (13) and Northeastern (13 in 17 games).

After Notre Dame, Maine finishes its regular season with two-game series against Merrimack and Northeastern.

A solid run by the Black Bears in their final six games – with additional losses from UNH or UConn – could propel Maine up the standings.

Approximately 2,000 tickets remain for Friday’s game in Portland, according to UMaine officials.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH