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After a Backward Slide To End The Season, Maine Must Beat UNH This Weekend

In September, even the most diehard of University of Maine hockey fans would chuckled at the notion of the Black Bears hosting a playoff series at Alfond Arena.

But the Black Bears, picked to finish in the Hockey East basement in September, will welcome the University of New Hampshire to Orono for a first-round series next weekend.

Oddly, I had the Bears finishing somewhere around 6th or 7th and UNH finishing last.

That's exactly what happened.

While it's a step forward for this program, which finished a respectable 10-11-3 in Hockey East with a roster dotted with freshmen and sophomores, Maine did leave some league points on the table over the second half of the season, particularly at home.

In late January and early February, Maine hosted the two worst teams in the league, UNH and Merrimack. They won only one of those games and tied two others, good for four out of eight points.

When you think about it, if a couple of those go the other way, Maine could have next weekend off and could be welcoming Boston University to the Alfond in two weeks.

The top five teams in the league earn first-round byes, and Maine lost a tiebreaker with UConn, with which it tied for fifth.

Maine was also 0-7 against Boston College, Northeastern and Providence, which finished 1-2-3, including an 0-3 stretch against the Eagles to conclude the regular season.

The Bears have also never defeated the Friars since Red Gendron has been behind the bench.

Looking ahead to the playoffs, Maine is facing a UNH team that will have something to prove after being blown out twice by Northeastern to end the regular season.

The Wildcats have just one win since Christmas. On paper, Maine should take care of business and potentially face the Friars in the quarterfinals.

But, rivalry games are funny things. Danny Tirone somehow turns into Tuukka Rask against Maine. These could possibly be longtime Wildcat coach Dick Umile's final games.

Maine better show up to play next weekend. The last thing it wants is for its season to end at home to their hated rivals, much less a hated rival which finished in the basement.

Perspective-wise, this was a good building step for Gendron and Co. But if Maine truly wants to be thought of as a team on the rise heading into next season, the Bears need to dispatch UNH resoundingly.

Hopefully the Alfond will be rocking!

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