University of Maine forwards Ben Poisson, left, and Jacob Schmidt-Vejstrup look on during a recent practice at Alfond Arena in Orono. Photo provided by the University of Maine athletics

It’s been a week since the University of Maine paused winter sports competition through at least Dec. 8 due to positive COVID-19 cases on the Orono campus.

The UMaine men’s hockey team will have six games postponed because of coronavirus safety concerns, including two scheduled this weekend at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. Previous games against the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts were also postponed because of the coronavirus.

The Black Bears continue to practice while holding out hope games will soon be played. Maine is scheduled to host rival New Hampshire in its season opener on Dec. 11.

Staying focused is big challenge, Maine head coach Red Gendron said during a Zoom news conference with media Wednesday afternoon.

“Recently it’s become more of a challenge because we got dressed up and ready to play, our fine suits on and we were ready to go to the ball and do some dancing. Obviously, the series with UMass and the series with UConn didn’t happen. That’s made it a little bit challenging for the kids. It manifests itself in how they feel about coming to the rink,” Gendron said, adding a joke. “How would you like to spend every day with me, barking at you?”

Maine postponed its season-opening series against the UMass on Nov. 20-21 because it wasn’t ready to host games at Alfond Arena and comply with COVID-19 regulations. A two-game series the following weekend at UConn was postponed when UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy decided to pause athletics.

“That’s not anybody’s fault. People who make the decisions about this, they have a very weighty job, and they’re trying to make decisions based on the health and safety of not only the people who work at the University of Maine, but the people who live in this general community. Who am I to say (they’re wrong)? I’m a dumb hockey coach. If I were a bright guy I wouldn’t be here with you. The bottom line is, I trust the people who have to make decisions like this, and I respect the enormous pressure they’re under,” Gendron said.

The UMaine women’s ice hockey team was able to play a pair of games at Holy Cross on Nov. 20-21 before the season was paused. The Maine women’s and men’s basketball teams have yet to play.

The constant uncertainty surrounding the season has impacted the team, Gendron said. After practicing as a full squad, the Black Bears must now work out in small groups.

University of Maine senior forward Jack Quinlivan heads toward the net during a recent practice in Orono. Photo provided by the University of Maine athletics

“If we were playing games, it might be easier on the minds of our players. I think the last couple of weeks has been a bit of a struggle for the players,” Gendron said. “For a while we were able to practice with the whole team. Now we’re not. This is for purposes of safety. We understand, but at the same time, it’s difficult, particularly for our players.”

To try to keep practice fatigue at bay, Gendron and his coaching staff are trying to mix things up. This week, for example, the Black Bears will have a 3-on-3 tournament, with no coaches on the ice.

“They were practicing hockey but it wasn’t really like practice.. Later in the week we’re going to have captains practices. Coaches again aren’t going to be on the ice. It’s a way we hope they can have some fun and not feel like the coaches are there scrutinizing everything,” Gendron said. “I think they’re sick of the situation. I don’t think they’re sick of us, but we’re part of the situation. They like having days where we’re not talking to them… You can only control what you can control. They key thing is, you do the best you can with the situation you have.”

Seeing teams across the country play, including others in Hockey East, adds to the frustration.

“Our players, anybody who plays hockey, you practice so that you can play. When you watch somebody else playing, it’s challenging. More than that, it’s just that we’re not playing. I don’t think our kids would be struggling right now with practicing or any of the things we’ve struggled with if in fact we were playing games,” Gendron said.

Normally, the college ice hockey season begins in early October. Even the teams currently playing got a late start, although Gendron said the quality of play is still high.

“Quality of execution was higher than you’d normally see at the start of the season. I’d speculate that a lot of that has to do with the fact that there’s been so much more practice time,” Gendron said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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