For as long as I’ve been following the University of Maine’s fabled men’s ice hockey program, the Black Bears have never played in an NCAA regional in their home state.
I’ve traveled as far as Albany and Worcester to watch the Black Bears play in the postseason.
In the future, Maine fans may not have to travel very far to watch their team vie for Frozen Four berths, as the University announced last week it was submitting a bid to host an NCAA regional in Portland.
The Bears have submitted bids to host regionals at the Cross Insurance Arena in the 2019-20 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
In my opinion, the University was smart to have its earliest bid come in 2019-20. East-coast regional sites in 2017 are in Providence, R.I., and Manchester, N.H. Maine is still another year or two away from being an NCAA tournament contender, and the Bears certainly would want to be in contention should Portland be awarded a regional a few years down the road.
In college hockey, if a team makes the NCAA tournament in a year they are hosting a regional, it gets placed in that regional regardless of its seed. Even if Maine was the last team into the field during a season in which Portland hosted a regional, the Black Bears would be placed there.
Traditionally, the Northeast Regional alternates between Manchester and Worcester, and I could easily see Portland figuring into that rotation. While UMaine’s campus is about a two-hour drive from Portland, you have several other Hockey East, Atlantic Hockey and ECAC institutions that are between a two and four-hour drive from the city. Fans from the Boston schools would also have the option of taking the Amtrak Downeaster, on which I’ve never had bad service.
The Cross Insurance Arena, which holds just over 6,700 fans for hockey, would be an outstanding site for a regional. If Maine were to be playing in it, I could see it selling out, or coming very close to doing so.
Even though Maine is coming off a dreadful 8-win season in 2015-16, bidding for an NCAA regional in its backyard is another small step towards getting the program back to prominence.
The University will know in December whether we’ll be seeing NCAA tournament hockey in Maine’s largest city come the 2019-2020 season. Maine fans everywhere should start crossing their fingers and hope that this bid gets approved.
I know this longtime Black Bear follower is. By then, my son will certainly be old enough to start going to some games.