ORONO — Coming off a four-point weekend over rival New Hampshire, the road doesn’t get any easier for the University of Maine men’s hockey team this week with a two-game trip to Boston to face 13th-ranked Northeastern. But there may also be no better time for the Black Bears to play some of the league’s iron than right now.

Maine (7-3-2) is unbeaten in seven of its last nine games, including Saturday’s overtime stunner against the Wildcats — a game which the Black Bears trailed 1-0 with fewer than 51 seconds showing on the game clock.

“I thought we were outplaying them the whole night. We just couldn’t score,” said Maine senior Patrick Shea, who would go on to get the game-winner after Tim Doherty’s power-play goal tied things up late. “UNH? At home? That’s the best way to do it.”

The buzzword around the Black Bears is “identity,” something both the players and head coach Red Gendron repeat over and over. When things are going well, Maine is playing to its identity. When things are not, it’s because the Black Bears momentarily lose sight of who they are.

Maine senior Patrick Shea camps out in front of the Quinnipiac net during a game last season at Alfond Arena in Orono. Shea scored the game-winner in overtime Saturday against New Hampshire. University of Maine athletics/Mark Tutuny

What they are is a big-bodied team with three lines that can manage the puck deep in the offensive zone, play a physical grind-it-out type game and wear down the opposition. Last Friday night against UNH, Maine did just that, recovering from a slow start to score three unanswered goals in a 3-1 win.

“Our game is down low, under the balcony,” Maine sophomore Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup said. “When we start doing that, we’re good. When we get away from it, we sometimes struggle a little bit. We got away from it at times (Friday), but we got back to it in the second and third.”

“We stuck together through all of it,” Gendron said Saturday after the weekend sweep was complete. “We were gritty all night long. Thought we played with great energy and passion through the whole game. There were ebbs and flows to the game at different times, but we were right there.”

Last winter, it took Maine 18 games to register its seventh win of the season, a victory that didn’t come until Jan. 7. Saturday’s stunner against UNH stood as a prime example of a game the Black Bears would have tied at best, or more likely lost, letting a key point or two in the standings slip away. They finished sixth a year ago, three points out of hosting a Hockey East quarterfinal playoff series instead of having to hit the road to Northeastern where they were swept in two games.

Currently, Maine is just one point out of first place with a 4-2-2 record in league play. The rest of the nation has been slow to notice the team’s strong first half — a season-opening 7-0 loss at Providence aside — with Maine still unranked in the national polls despite a win at No. 8 Quinnipiac and a tie at No. 14 UMass Lowell on its resume.

Junior goalie Jeremy Swayman made 62 saves in all against New Hampshire, allowing only two goals to a Wildcat team that went 1 for 7 combined on the power play. Swayman’s play has been crucial for a team that replaced five of its six defensemen from last year’s squad, and his 1.90 goals against average and .946 save percentage are both among the nation’s best.

Maine has allowed 1.5 goals per game as a team over its last 10.

“He’s been unbelievable for us so far,” Shea said. “He played great (last weekend).”

The Maine penalty kill, 12th in the nation at 89.5 percent effectiveness, certainly has benefited from Swayman’s play. But in the early going, the Black Bears have been anything but a one- or two-man team.

Schmidt-Svejstrup and Eduards Tralmaks each have seven goals, Mitchell Fossier is tied for third in the country with 12 assists and Shea’s overtime winner Saturday showcased some depth at the forward position for Maine. His line with Ryan Smith and Emil Westerlund was Maine’s best throughout Saturday night, even before the late heroics.

“We have a lot of energy and big bodies. We work well down low, puck control,” said Shea, who was injured in the season opener against Providence and missed the rest of October as a result. “I felt like we should have been scoring the whole weekend. We finally got one, so it felt good, definitely.”

“It was a frustrating month there being injured, especially senior year, so to get back in the swing of things felt good. When you first come back your touch is a little off, so it felt good to finally feel like myself and to get a goal like that, obviously.”

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