BIDDEFORD — The University of New England men’s hockey team is following a familiar script – with a few key differences.

The Nor’easters are again in the final four in the NCAA Division III tournament, after again opening their playoffs with a win over Plymouth State, and again taking down a top-seeded Utica team to make the semifinals.

“It’s been a little bit of déjà vu over the last couple of weeks, because it was the same route to get to the Frozen Four,” Coach Kevin Swallow said. “It’s a surreal feeling.”

No. 10 UNE (21-6-2) plays No. 3 Adrian College (24-4-2) at 3 p.m. Friday at Raymond Bourque Arena in Beverly, Massachusetts. Host Endicott College faces Hobart in the later semifinal, and the winners will meet in the national championship game at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“If you had told me eight years ago we were going to be playing in back-to-back Frozen Fours,” Swallow said, “I don’t know if I would have believed you.”

According to Swallow and his players, however, that’s where a lot of the similarities end. While last year’s team was a happy-to-be-here newcomer to the NCAA semifinals, this year’s group is experienced, focused and prepared.


“I think we’re way more comfortable this year,” Swallow said. “I think last year, we definitely were preaching staying loose and just not being nervous. But being on that stage, it can get to you.

“This year … we feel like we belong here, as opposed to ‘Oh boy, look at this Cinderella run that we’re going on here.'”

Those nerves, kept in check in the early rounds, showed up in the final four last season as UNE was routed by Geneseo State, 8-3. The Nor’easters, having broken new ground with the program’s first semifinal appearance, weren’t sure how to approach it.

“A lot of the guys who are returning have a little bit of a sour taste in their mouth from our experience last year,” said co-captain Daniel Winslow, a forward who’s a graduate student, and who had three assists in the 5-4 overtime victory over Utica. “Our motto last year was playing loose, and ultimately I think that we played a little too loose. We know what to expect.”

UNE returns 13 players from last year’s team, and that experience has helped the Nor’easters survive a series of gut checks along the way, none of them more challenging than when UNE saw a 4-1 lead disappear in the third period against Utica.

“When they scored the three goals to come back, that was probably the loudest arena I’ve ever played in,” Winslow said.


UNE survived the third-period onslaught, regrouped before overtime, and got the breakthrough it needed when Anthony Sciucco scored his second goal of the night.

“I just threw the puck on net, saw it cross the goal line, and I kind of blacked out,” said Sciucco, a sophomore forward. “It was crazy how fast it all changed. … Just to see one squirt through and get in, it was great. It was the best feeling in the world. It was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders.”

As for the feeling to be getting ready for the final four yet again?

“It definitely feels different, because we’ve been (there),” Sciucco said. “We know what to expect, we know what the teams are like, and I think we’ll do well.”

It won’t be easy. Adrian, coached by Adam Krug, the brother of former Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, is the defending national champion. The Bulldogs have both the nation’s leading scorer in Matus Spodniak (29 goals, 27 assists) and the No. 1 power-play unit.

“Discipline’s going to be huge. … We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box,” Swallow said. “There’s so much skill there, they’re dangerous from all five guys on the ice. A lot of times, you can key in on one player they’re trying to get the puck to who can shoot and score, but they have five guys who do that.”


The Nor’easters won’t need to worry about support. With final four host Endicott only an hour-and-a-half away, there’s been a push from UNE students and fans to make it down for the game. The school’s Division of Student Affairs said Wednesday that over 100 students had reserved tickets for Friday afternoon.

Ty LeBlond, a sophomore sports management major, is hoping to attend the game with a group of friends after catching most of the home games during the regular season. LeBlond said the games are a hot ticket during the season, and that there’s been a buzz on campus during the playoff run.

“There definitely is. That doesn’t just happen every year,” said LeBlond, a receiver on the UNE football team. “Everyone’s talking about it, everybody’s excited about it. It’s a cool thing, and the environment at the games, it’s always packed. If the game’s at 7 and you get there at 7, there’s a chance you won’t find a seat.

“It’s cool that they get to do that again. I’m sure pretty most everyone at campus is going to be following along with the game.”

Olivia Roy, a senior health, wellness and occupational studies major and a swimmer who works at Harold Alfond Forum – UNE’s home rink – said she’s seen the team generate interest online as well.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Roy said. “A lot of the buzz I see on social media, people are spreading posts about the hockey team and getting super excited. … It’s a fun environment to be a part of.”

The script may be familiar for UNE, but the Nor’easters are hoping for a different ending.

“We just need to play our game, we need to play the right way,” Winslow said. “Just enjoy every moment we have. It doesn’t happen often.”

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