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WHO ARE THESE BLACK BEARS?


Is this the same University of Maine hockey team who has been an abysmal club away from Alfond Arena the last four-plus years?

Don't look now, but the Black Bears are heading into the Christmas break above .500 at 8-7-1, and 3-1 away from Orono thanks to this weekend's sweep at Quinnipiac University.

While some Black Bear supporters may argue that this wasn't Boston College or North Dakota that Maine swept, Quinnipiac is a quality opponent in spite of its 6-10-2 record. The Bobcats won 23 games last winter, and played for a national championship the year before that.

In an era where there's much more parody in college hockey, going into another team's building and winning two games is a challenge.

And this young group of Black Bear cubs grew up big time over the weekend.

The series didn't get off to a great start, with Maine falling behind 3-0 on Friday before rallying for a 7-4 win, which featured a highlight-reel goal from freshman forward Eduards Tralmarks, one which SportsCenter showed on Friday night before its obligitory 10-minute LeBron coverage.

The Bears subsequently finished the sweep Saturday with a dramatic 5-3 win, with sophomore Pat Shea's goal in the final half-minute supplying Maine with the game-winner.

But goaltender Jeremy Swayman was once again the man, making 95 saves on the weekend. He kept the Bears in the game on Friday and allowed his teammates to claw away.

The Christmas break coudln't have come at a better time for defenseman Rob Michel, who left Friday's game with a knee injury, and he'll have some time to recover.

This Maine team does not look like a team destined to finish last in Hockey East. There is no juggernaut in the league this year. Swayman is the type of goalie the Black Bears could ride to Causeway Street and the TD Garden in Boston.

Maine will have a chance to continue its road success after Christmas with visits to RPI, Brown and Boston University.

A side note: If you're planning on making the trip to Troy, New York, for the RPI series, I highly recommend a meal and a beer at Muza, a Polish restaurant near RPI's campus. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a fitness training in Albany in September with an RPI season ticket holder, and this restaurant has great craft brew and potato pancakes.

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