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UMaine hockey season starting to look like a famous sports movie


If you've seen the movie "Major League," you may remember the demented Rachel Phelps angrily asking her general manager "Who do these guys think they are?" when the fictional 1988 Cleveland Indians were making an unexpected pennant charge.

Does this University of Maine men's hockey team remind you of that loveable band of misfits in any way?

Well, some fans and media alike around Hockey East figured the Black Bears would be closer to the cellar than the top of the league come the first weekend of February, but Red Gendron has this Maine team playing some darned good hockey.

Maine continued to hold serve at Alfond Arena on Friday, ending an eight-game losing streak to Northeastern with an impressive 4-2 victory in which the Bears scored three unanswered goals after trailing 1-0.

Maine is now 10-0-2 at Alfond Arena, is tied with UMass Lowell and Boston College for second in Hockey East.

If the season ended this very second, Maine would host UConn in a first-round playoff series thanks to its sweep of BC that ignited the Bears' current 5-game winning streak.

The Bears are also 16th in the PairWise rankings that mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process, which means Maine likely needs to reach at least the Hockey East championship game to squeak into the tournament field.

But before we get into all that championship talk, let's focus on the fact that this scrappy group of Black Bears keeps finding ways to win.

They certainly don't have the talent of top teams as North Dakota or Minnesota State, but keep making enough plays to win hockey games.

This is also no time for Maine to rest on its laurels. Yes, the Bears are tied for 2nd in Hockey East but the two teams tied for 8th place - New Hampshire and Northeastern - are only 3 points behind the Bears and have games in hand.

The standings are way too tight for Maine to slip up. Fortunately, UConn and Vermont - the Bears' next two opponents - are ones they should sweep on home ice.

Given Maine has a home-and-home with Providence to end the season - and Nate Leaman has had the Bears' number during the Gendron era - it's not too much to ask to expect eight points. Anything less would be a disappointment.

Take care of the next two weekends, starting on Valentine's Day against UConn, and Maine is in the driver's seat to be playing at the Alfond in early March. This team is starting to play with a blue-collar grittiness of the Patriots' first Super Bowl championship team. So long as Jeremy Swayman is between the pipes, do the likes of North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth want to see Maine in March?

And while high school hoops will dominate the local landscape both of these weekends, get to the Alfond. Especially if you're in town from Washington or Aroostook counties for postseason basketball.

This ought to be a special stretch run. And does anyone else believe that Gendron - in a good way of course - resembles Lou Brown in one way or another? Maybe there's a cardboard cutout of Rachel Phelps in the Alfond locker room.

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