The University of Maine hockey team is, as a certain hoodie-wearing coach would say, "on to Connecticut."
The Hockey East quarterfinal matchups became official early Saturday night, and UMaine's first home quarterfinal series in eight years will send the fifth-ranked Huskies to the Alfond to face the fourth-ranked Black Bears in a best-of-three matchup, starting Friday night.
UConn earned the No. 5 seed by virtue of Northeastern's road win over Boston University on Saturday afternoon, which will send the seventh-ranked Huskies to No. 2 UMass, sixth-seeded BU to third-seeded UMass Lowell while regular-season champ Boston College will entertain Providence College.
Looking at the Black Bears' matchup with UConn, the regular-season series ended with the Huskies taking 2 of 3 from UMaine, including a split in Orono in mid February.
UConn is also 7-3-3 against UMaine since joining Hockey East in 2014, but this will mark the first time the programs have met in the postseason.
It's hard to imagine this series not going three games, given how close these teams on paper.
The biggest edge the Black Bears have is in goal in Jeremy Swayman, who is establishing himself as a Hobey Baker candidate and a favorite for the Mike Richter award, handed out to the nation's top goaltender.
The question is, can the Black Bears find some offensive efficiency against a Huskies' team that features a healthy blend of size and speed?
When the teams played in Orono in February, UMaine struggled with the Huskies' forecheck and couldn't consistently get pucks in deep. The Bears' top lines have to find a way to get pucks in deep and put pressure on UConn's blueliners, and get traffic to the front of the net. Mitchell Fossier is one of best in Hockey East in terms of setting up teammates (9 goals, 18 assists), and guys like Eduards Tralmarks and Tim Doherty have to find ways to put pucks in the net.
Tomas Vomacka, a Nashville Predators product, is no slouch between the pipes for the Huskies. He has a .901 save percentage and 3.09 goals-against average, but in the regular-season matchups, he kept rebounds to a premium.
When the Black Bears are crashing the net, they're a tough team to beat. Defensively, they have to be as solid in front of Swayman as they were in Friday's finale against Providence.
That means clearing rebounds to the corners and keeping pucks out of the middle. UConn features nine players who have posted at least 14 points, led by Falmouth native Ben Freeman (6 goals, 15 assists). The Huskies have plenty of guys who can score, so UMaine's blueliners will have to be on their toes and help their goaltender.
The way UMaine put their Providence demons to bed last weekend, the Black Bears appear destined to do the same to UConn. This series won't be a sweep by either side, but as was the case last time UMaine hosted a quarterfinal series, the Black Bears will find a way to get it done in three games.
If UMaine wants to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, it has to win this series and find a way to get to the Hockey East championship game. The Black Bears enter postseason play 14th in the PairWise rankings.
Photo Courtesy of UMaine Athletics