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Just who are these Black Bears?

Over the last few years, whenever the University of Maine hockey team ventured south of Kittery, you could automatically chalk it up in the loss column.

But this year's Black Bears have a road swagger about them.

Maine hasn't played at Alfond Arena since Dec. 6. a six-game road stretch awaited coach Red Gendron's club. The Black Bears have won their first five after blanking Boston University 3-0 on Saturday.

A road shutout anywhere, much less on Commonwealth Avenue, would've been an afterthought in years past.

Something is different about this team.

Anybody who knows anything about hockey knows a team is built from the net and up. And the Black Bears have an elite goaltender in Boston Bruins' draft pick Jeremy Swayman.

With his shutout Saturday, he became the first Maine netminder since Blair Allison in 1994 to shut out BU on the road.

It also helps that Maine didn't sit back in the third period with a 2-0 lead. In the past, you would've seen dump-and-chase hockey. Not this year. An odd-man rush shortly after a Bear penalty was killed off led to Brendan Robbins putting the game on ice.

Maine may not have the first-round draft picks that BU has, but Gendron and Ben Guite are developing a talented, strong team. It's difficult to build when you have a roster filled with guys who are likely one-and-dones who don't have the once-in-a-generation talent of guys like Paul Kariya.

Saturday's victory puts Maine in sixth place in Hockey East, where it's tied with UConn. But the Black Bears have games in hand on all five teams in front of them in the standings, with a series against one of them - Northeastern - looming next weekend.

Maine has one more non-conference game at Brown of the ECAC looming on Monday, and the Black Bears must continue to come out with the same intensity and focus they have been over the last several games. An early-week road game against a lowly ECAC team is your prototypical trap game, but Gendron will have his team focused and ready.

Do yourself a favor and get to Alfond Arena sometime in January or February. It'll be worth your money. Maine doesn't return home until Jan. 16 when it takes on UMass, but I have a feeling this team will find itself on Causeway Street in March if it keeps playing like this.

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