The University of Maine men’s hockey team will not play at Alfond Arena this weekend in what would have been its season opener against Massachusetts, but those involved with the program don’t seem disappointed.

In fact, they saw the announcement – which came in the form of a press release Wednesday afternoon – as a positive, because it also stated that the Black Bears would instead open the Hockey East season at Connecticut on Nov. 27.

“I feel about as good as I’ve felt since September,” said head coach Red Gendron. “Because we know we’re going to be playing next Friday, after Thanksgiving at UConn. It couldn’t be more fitting. We’re all thankful for a variety of things at Thanksgiving. When we play (Nov. 27), that’s something to be thankful about.”

According to the release, which was sent out by Dan Demeritt, the executive director of public affairs for the University of Maine system, the Black Bears’ women’s hockey team will play a season-opening series Friday and Saturday at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Ken Ralph, UMaine’s athletic director, said the Black Bears were unable to play a home series this weekend because the school had not finalized all its COVID safety protocols for games at Alfond Arena.

“The reality is there were just some quirks that we couldn’t get finalized,” he said in a Zoom press conference. “It’s one of those things that we tried everything we could, but there were a couple of timing issues that just didn’t line up. Since we’re being ultra safe about anything and we don’t want there to be anything that we don’t feel we’re in control of 100 percent, we weren’t quite there yet at home.”

The women’s team is scheduled to play Connecticut at home next weekend, and while Ralph hopes to have Alfond ready, he said those games could be moved.

“We’re going to play next weekend, the question is going to be the location,” said Ralph. “We’re going to plan on being at home, but we will look at what other options are available to us. We’ve got to be fluid.”

Still, Ralph also saw the news as a positive step, not just for the hockey program, but all winter sports programs at Maine. The men’s and women’s basketball teams are scheduled to play in tournaments over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Ralph said the basketball teams are still awaiting final approval from the university to be allowed to play, but added, “right now, we’re tracking in a direction we feel comfortable with.”

Overall, Ralph said, “The fact that we have a Black Bear team playing Friday night feels awfully good … I see today as the best day we’ve had in a long time.”

Both Ralph and Gendron hope that the two games that were supposed to be played against UMass this weekend will be played later. Hockey East built extra dates into its schedule for instances like this. Given the rising COVID-19 case counts across the nation, they also realize future games could be canceled or moved.

Senior captain Jack Quinlivan said the players are excited to know they have the go-ahead for the UConn game.

“I think, just speaking to the guys on the team, we’re excited,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of speculation going on the last couple of weeks. We were preparing as if we were going to play this Friday. Now we have a definitive date. And the guys are just excited we even have a season.”

The Ivy League already has canceled all winter sports, and Union and RPI have canceled hockey. Vermont announced this week it its delaying the start of its winter season until Dec. 18.

“It’s been a frustrating go for our students, I know that,” said Ralph. “But to know that we’re going to be able to initiate seasons here is a piece of news that we’ve been waiting for for a long time.”

UMaine has begun its in-season testing protocol. The Black Bears have been tested three times since last weekend, including Wednesday. So far, no players have tested positive. Starting this week, the university will be able to get quicker results through a lab on campus, using antigen testing.

In the statement, UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said, “We are incredibly proud of our student athletes and very much want to see our Maine Black Bears begin their winter seasons. We are assessing each opportunity for our teams to compete within the context of rising COVID case counts and the threat of community transmission.

“We are working with our athletic conferences, UMaine athletics, our safety professionals and stakeholders to determine next steps for our teams.”

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