Rebuilding teams need confidence building-victories any way they can get them.
Coming into this weekend’s Hockey East series with UMass, the University of Maine hockey team had yet to win a road game in 2015-16. Just getting out of Amherst with two or three points would have been a modest yet successful weekend.
But the Black Bears did something they hadn’t done in 15 years: They got out of the Mullins Center with four points, beating the Minutemen 5-2 on Friday night and 5-4 on Saturday night.
While UMass is no North Dakota or Notre Dame, the Black Bears need to keep building confidence. They entered Friday’s game in the Hockey East basement, and left Amherst in 9th place, one point behind Northeastern for eighth place. The teams that finish 6th through 8th in the standings will host a best-of-three series in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament.
Remember, coach Red Gendron is rebuilding this program, and has it heading in the right direction. Going into UMass and sweeping the Minutemen signifies that. It’s a small step in the right direction, and shows that the Black Bears can go into somebody else’s building and win two games. That will prove huge come tournament time if Maine finds itself heading on the road for a best-of-three series.
Hopefully, the Black Bears can keep the confidence brewing heading into a home series with defending national champion Providence. Upset wins over top-tier teams – especially in your own building – are also key to rebuilding efforts, and if Maine can pull an upset this weekend, that will give the younger players all kinds of pep in their steps. There’s no reason why Alfond Arena should not be rocking with the defending national champions in town. And Providence is the only Hockey East team Maine has not beaten in the Gendron era.
If that’s not enough, the UMaine men’s and women’s basketball teams both picked up America East wins against Binghamton. Not a bad weekend to be a Black Bear fan.
CELTICS ON A ROLL
Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are on a quiet tear.
I say “quiet,” because while the Celtics don’t have superstars like Steph Curry or Kevin Durant, Boston has won five consecutive games entering Sunday night’s game at Orlando. Boston also entered Sunday’s play fifth in a bunched-up Eastern Conference.
Celtics fans received great news last week that guard Isaiah Thomas (no relation to the Detroit Pistons’ legend) was selected to play in the All-Star game in Toronto.
Boston may not have any game-changers, but it does have one of the NBA’s best young coaches in Brad Stevens, and he has this team playing well. The NBA is a very streaky league, and Stevens has the Celtics playing great team basketball.
With the trade deadline still to come, it’s possible that general manager Danny Ainge could make a move without mortgaging the future. The Celtics are very capable of making a deep postseason run in a wide-open Eastern Conference if they continue to play well. The talented Thomas is certainly a great guard to build around, and any good basketball team builds from the backcourt out.
CAN THE BRUINS FIND CONSISTENCY?
I’ve said this about the Boston Bruins all year: They are very inconsistent. They look like a team capable of raising the Stanley Cup one night, and a last-place team the next night.
The Bruins sat 7th in the Eastern Conference during this weekend’s All-Star break, but like in the NBA, the NHL’s Eastern Conference is jumbled, with the exception of the conference-leading Washington Capitals.
Despite their inconsistency, the Bruins are only six points behind Atlantic Division-leading Florida. If you had told me the Florida Panthers would be leading the Atlantic Division at the All-Star break, and the Montreal Canadiens would be outside the playoff picture, I’d have thought you were crazy.
Boston has one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in Tuukka Rask, who is capable of stealing any seven-game series. If the Bruins can stay away from that last Wild Card spot and avoid a first-round matchup with the juggernaut Capitals, they too can make a deep postseason run.
The second half of the season should prove interesting for the Celtics and Bruins and their fans. Any New England sports fan needs a reason to think spring,