It may be Fourth of July weekend, which signifies cookouts, sunshine and time at the beach in these parts, but in Maine, it’s never too early to think about hockey.
Fans of the University of Maine men’s hockey team team woke up Friday morning to exciting news that the Black Bears’ schedule for the 2016-17 season has been released.
If you want to compare the early portion of the 2015-16 slate to this season’s schedule, the early part of this season will be much friendlier to coach Red Gendron’s club.
If you may remember, the Black Bears didn’t play a countable game at home until November, with road games against 2014 national champion Union College, 2016 national runner-up Quinnipiac, and neutral site matchups with Michigan State of the Big 10 and 2016 national champion North Dakota in the IceBreaker tournament giving Maine a beastly early-season slate.
The result – even though Maine did beat the Spartans and Fighting Hawks in shootouts that went into the NCAA books as ties – was an 0-8-3 start that the Bears never recovered from.
This season starts with four straight games in the friendly confines with Alfond Arena against ECAC foes RPI and Quinnipiac, the latter series falling on Homecoming weekend. Road trips to Miami University of Ohio of the NCHC and Colgate of the ECAC also highlight October.
The 34-game slate also features three games in Portland against Brown of the ECAC, along with Hockey East foes Boston College and Notre Dame, a non-conference clash with New Hampshire in Manchester, an exhibition game against the USA Under-18 development team and defending Hockey East champion Northeastern coming into Orono. The non-conference slate also includes AHA foe American International College.
The schedule does present its challenges in 2016 Frozen Four teams Quinnipiac and BC, but the Black Bears will get both of those teams at home. Maine should’ve beaten the Bobcats at the Alfond last year, as Quinnipiac overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit to force a 3-3 tie, while the Eagles have not beaten Maine on the road since the 2012-13 season.
However, the early slate of games will give Gendron’s club an opportunity to get off to a solid start. Maine can’t afford to fall into an 0-8-3-type hole heading into Hockey East play like it did a year ago.
The recruits Gendron is bringing in this fall, such as Detroit Red Wings draft pick Chase Pearson, New England prep-school talent Jake Pappalardo, along with Florida Panthers pick Pat Shea and Detroit prospect Pat Holway, should make the Black Bears better.
The other thing I like about this schedule is the fact that Maine has no “countable” games during the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, in which the Alfond balcony is usually half-full at best. The Alfond atmosphere just isn’t complete without a full balcony.
Season-ticket holders will also enjoy new perks, such as free parking in lots that typically cost you $10 to park in near Alfond Arena.
With this schedule, look for Maine to win more games than it did a year ago. My bold prediction is the Black Bears will be hosting a Hockey East playoff series at Alfond Arena this winter.
Is it October yet?