UMaine sophomore forward Adam Dawe drives the net in a non-conference game against Alaska-Anchorage in October. Mark Tutuny/University of Maine athletics

ORONO — Early this season, Simon Butala employed the services of search engine Google.

In October, after the University of Maine hockey team’s win over Alaska-Anchorage, Black Bear head coach Red Gendron described the sophomore defenseman as “rock-ribbed.” The Pennsylvania native was hardly alone in that he’d never heard the phrase before.

“That was the first time I ever heard that. I actually looked it up to see exactly what it meant,” Butala said Wednesday after 15th-ranked Maine wrapped up practice at Alfond Arena, where they will host No. 18 Providence College in the regular-season finale on Friday night. It’s a contest with huge implications for Maine.

A win coupled with a Connecticut loss at UMass-Lowell the same night would give Maine fourth-place in the Hockey East standings, allowing the Black Bears to host a league quarterfinal series for the first time since 2011. A loss to a Providence team that is 20-1-1 in its last 22 games against Maine, including last weekend’s 3-2 win in Rhode Island, and the Black Bears could tumble as low as seventh in the final standings.

Earning home ice in the postseason is especially critical for Maine’s NCAA Tournament hopes later this month. The Black Bears are 12-1-3 at home this season but just 5-10-2 on the road.

Gendron likes his team’s focus this week heading into such a crucial showdown with the Friars.

“Our team is sharp,” Gendron said. “Everybody knows what’s at stake in the game, it’s that simple. We just try to focus on what we have to do, and that’s it.”

Maine (17-11-5 overall) boasts one of the most prolific scoring lines in the nation, with the senior trio of Mitchell Fossier, Tim Doherty and Patrick Shea. Fossier sits tied for fourth in scoring in the country with 41 points and third overall with 32

UMaine sophomore Adam Dawe carries the puck up ice during a game earlier this season at Alfond Arena in Orono. Peter Buehner/University of Maine athletics

assists, while Doherty’s 14 goals tie him for the team lead with junior Eduards Tralmaks. Junior netminder Jeremy Swayman, a fourth-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins in 2017, is fifth in the nation with a .937 save percentage to go along with a career-low 2.13 goals against average.

The Black Bears, though, aren’t as one-dimensional a group as they were at this time last year. Eight different players have registered at least 10 points this season and nine players have at least four goals through 33 games.

“We’re a team,” Gendron said. “It’s not just Jeremy. It’s a whole lot of guys producing, and it’s the leadership on the team that’s gotten us this far. That being said, there’s much more work to do. Nobody’s satisfied around here. We need to keep going.”

Generously listed at 5-foot-8, sophomore Adam Dawe (9-11-20 totals) was a spark plug when inserted into Maine’s lineup last winter before a concussion in a game against Northeastern derailed his season. He ended up appearing in only 17 of the team’s 36 games — none of them after Jan. 12. With nine goals this season, including a team-high six on the power play, Dawe has provided exactly the type of secondary scoring Maine desperately needed.

The Newfoundland native’s first five goals this season came with the man-advantage, prompting Gendron into some gentle needling.

“That week before Merrimack (on Jan. 31), I needed him to sign a form for me. He said, ‘It’s going to cost you two even-strength goals,’ and that Friday night I just ended up getting the two even-strength goals,” said Dawe, who has skated with Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup and Ben Poisson through the second half of the year. “Our line has gotten together a few times and said we’ve got to get going. We had a lot of meetings between the three of us and we’ve built some chemistry we didn’t think we had.

“We’re all buying in. We bought in early. We were successful at the start of the season, and I think that’s what the key was.”

UMaine’s Simon Butala battles for the puck with Teemu Pulkkinen of Omaha during a game in January. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

With five new faces on the blue line this season for the Black Bears, Butala took on a role more significant than that of a typical sophomore. The 6-2, 190-pounder appeared in all 36 of the team’s games as a freshman, immediately making him the most experienced defenseman in a Maine sweater.

Last season’s learning curve was an important step in his development, he said.

“If I’m playing well, I feel like I’m the guy that makes the simple play and I’m hard to play against,” Butala said. “I want to be the hardest player to play against. I want guys on the other team, when they’re trying to take their pre-game nap, just be thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got to play against Butala tonight.’ I want them to dread playing against me. That’s kind of the game that I play — simple, get my shots through, defense first and be a defenseman you can always rely on.”

Having a “rock-ribbed” defenseman to help anchor a green corps in front of Swayman has helped Maine have something to play for in the season’s final weekend.

Merriam-Webster defines “rock-ribbed” as “firm and inflexible,” which is exactly what Maine will have to be against Providence on Friday if they hope to play at least a couple more games at home this season. None of the Black Bears will have to look that up.

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