ORONO, Maine — To say a city 508 miles from your hometown is in your backyard would certainly be a stretch but not when you’re attending school 1,630 miles away.
For the four Minnesota natives on the University of Maine men’s hockey team, this weekend’s trip to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, represents the only time they will play in the midwest this season, unless they have to return to play Notre Dame in the Hockey East playoffs.
Notre Dame, the nation’s No. 8 team in both major polls, is 16-5-7 overall and 12-2-2 in Hockey East, and UMaine is 7-17-6 and 4-10-2. Game times are 6:35 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday.
Senior left wing Will Merchant and defensemen Eric Schurhamer, Keith Muehlbauer and Sam Becker are all from the Minneapolis area and are looking forward to the series. It will still require friends and family to make a seven and a half hour drive to watch them play, but that is still a much shorter drive than the others on their schedule.
“At least my parents won’t need to fly,” said Schurhamer, who will have “nine or so people” at Friday’s game and 13 on Saturday.
“There will be a good crowd of Schurhamers,” said the junior. “Any time you get your family to your games, it’s always special.
“But you’ve got to stay focused. Getting four points is still the biggest thing,” he added.
“It’ll be nice to have family there. I haven’t seen them since Christmas,” said freshman Muehlbauer, whose parents and grandparents will be among his family at the game.
Merchant said in addition to his parents, he has relatives in Iowa who will come to the series.
“This is the closest we get to home,” said Merchant, who added that Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena is “one of the nicest places I’ve ever played in.”
Becker, who also is a freshman, said his family won’t be able to make it, but there will be some familiarity for him and the other three because “Notre Dame has a pretty good Minnesota connection.”
The Fighting Irish have seven Minnesota natives on their roster.
“I know quite a few guys on their team,” said Becker.
The Minnesota natives aren’t the only ones who will be considerably closer to home. Right wing Brady Campbell’s family and friends in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario, are 445 miles from South Bend.
“It’s always fun to play in front of people who have supported you all the way throughout your career,” said Campbell.