The men’s hockey team at the University of Maine uses cloth masks that attach to the cage on the helmets, providing a little more comfort. Photo courtesy of University of Maine athletics

University of Maine men’s hockey coach Dennis “Red” Gendron has looked everywhere for one, but there’s no blueprint for the 2020-21 season.

“There’s no road map, I went back and checked Shawn Walsh’s files, he didn’t have anything on pandemics,” Gendron said. “I was a little disappointed because I always thought Shawn Walsh used to think of everything. He didn’t think of this one.”

One thing he knows is his team is ready to play some games.

The Black Bears will play four games in seven days, beginning with a two-game set at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks on Sunday and Monday, then traveling to Burlington, Vermont to face the University of Vermont Catamounts on Jan. 8-9.

The Black Bears and River Hawks were supposed to play Dec. 19-20, but were postponed  due to coronavirus concerns.

“I like to think about things I know will be helpful, we will have two games at Lowell and we are going to turn around and play two more games next weekend,” Gendron said . “That’s what I am focused on and I don’t worry about how quick the turnaround is or anything else. Right now, our kids have practiced well over 50 times this year to only play two games. We don’t need more practices; we need to play games.”

The only games the Black Bears have played this season have been against the University of New Hampshire. They tied the Wildcats 1-1 on Dec. 11 and losing 6-2 on Dec. 12.

Gendron has been able to get some information on his team from the practices, but it’s the games that tell the whole story.

“I am unsure what we have right now,” Gendron said. “Practices are great. They afford you a certain amount of information, but it’s the games that tell you what you really have or don’t have. A small sample size and playing on (the Olympic) ice surface at the Whittemore Center, we don’t really know what we have right now.”

The River Hawks are in a similar situation as they have only played two games this season. They dropped the season-opener to the Providence College Friars 4-2 on Dec. 13, then beat the University of Connecticut Huskies 2-1 on Dec. 21.

The lack of games for the Black Bears doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any competition in those 50-plus practices.

“We have had a chance to practice everything you think you can imagine, throughout the first semester” Gendron said. “We have practiced structural things, how we play, how we run our systems, things like that, but we have spent ton of time on individual skill development. We made sure that we incorporated a ton of fun. There’s all sorts of hockey games and little competitions that you can have. We did those kinds of things.”

Gendron believes that individual skill development has helped and pointed to senior captain Jack Quilivan, who has had been used a checking-line forward but found his scoring touch in practice and working on his shot.

The defensemen have also gotten better at shooting the puck during the practice time, Gendron said.

When the team was in pods for practice, the players were allowed to name their pods. When those competitions happened in practice, the team had trophy ceremonies for the winning “team.”

The ceremonies did disappoint Gendron just a bit.

“We had ceremonies that mimic being awarded the Stanley Cup,” Gendron said. “I couldn’t get (the Hockey Hall of Fame in) Toronto to let me use the Stanley Cup. That really pissed me off but we did all that sort of stuff to keep the kids engaged and positive.”

The celebrations were carried over into the first game of the season. While the game will go in the NCAA record book as a 1-1, the Black Bears won the shootout, 3-2, for Hockey East standings purposes.

“After the game – we ended up winning it in exciting fashion in a shootout – what I saw on the faces of the players, the raw joy, it was one of the neatest things to ever happen to me in hockey,” Gendron said. “I (have) even had the Stanley Cup over my head (as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils). That moment in the locker room at UNH in Durham, New Hampshire was one of the best moments of my life. These kids have worked real hard admist all of this. The bottom line I don’t have to do too much to get them motivated.”

While there’s not much tape on the River Hawks, Gendron knows what to expect come Sunday and Monday.

“I see what I normally see, they work hard, they play hard and they are exceptional executing their structure and systems as well,” Gendron said. “A sample size being as it is, we don’t know much of their goalies. They each played one game, but they both looked pretty good to me. Lowell is what they are always are, very solid.”

Sophomore Logan Neaton suffered the 4-2 loss to Providence while Henry Welch earned the 2-1 win over UConn.

Lowell is reportedly adding junior transfer goalie Owen Savory from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for the second half of the season. He went 13-2-9 with a 2.05 goals against average and a .934 save percentage with the Engineers last season. He transferred after RPI canceled its hockey season.

Gendron wouldn’t name a starter for Sunday’s game. Sophomore Matthew Thiessen, a 2018 seventh-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks got the start in both games against the Wildcats. There are two freshmen on the roster, former Maine Nordiques goaltender Connor Androlewicz and Victor Ostman.


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