ORONO, Maine — For Keith Muehlbauer, Sam Becker and Canon Pieper, this weekend’s series at defending national champion University of Minnesota Duluth will be a homecoming of sorts.
The University of Maine hockey seniors are from Minnesota, although Duluth is 149 miles from Roseville, where Pieper and Becker are from, and it is 169 miles from Muehlbauer’s hometown of Apple Valley.
But in the three previous seasons, UMaine has made only two trips to the Midwest — a two-game set at Miami (Ohio) during the 2016-17 season and two Hockey East games at Notre Dame (Indiana) during 2015-16 season.
“This will be, by far, the closest we have been to home,” defenseman and alternate captain Muehlbauer said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun getting back to play in Minnesota. One of my grandfathers hasn’t seen me play since high school.”
Muehlbauer said his family bought approximately 25 tickets to the series and has some friends at UMD who will be cheering against him.
“It will be fun to see everybody and have everyone experience an atmosphere like that,” Muehlbauer said.
Pieper, who plays center, said some friends and family who haven’t seen him play for UMaine after he transferred from Quinnipiac in 2016 will be on hand.
“I can’t wait,” Pieper said. “It’s going to be kind of weird, but it will be good to be home this time of year.”
Becker, a defenseman said the weekend has been circled on his calendar.
“I have an aunt and uncle who haven’t seen me play live since high school,” Becker said.
But the UMaine trio isn’t going to get caught up in the homecoming. They believe they have something to prove against the second-ranked Bulldogs (2-1-1). UMaine is 2-0 after last weekend’s home sweep of St. Lawrence.
“We want to make a statement. We have a lot of belief in our [locker] room, and we want to display that,” Becker said. “We want to show how hard we play and that we can compete with these top teams.”
“We definitely can compete with them, no doubt about it,” Muehlbauer said.
UMaine’s Minnesotans are encouraged by what they have seen so far.
“We are definitely on the rise,” Muehlbauer said. “From freshman year to now is a completely different atmosphere.”
“We have to stick to our game plan and not let the atmosphere or the moment get to us,” Becker added.
The Black Bears were swept at home by Minnesota Duluth last year, 2-1 and 2-0.
“That will add a little bit of fuel to the fire. We’d like to get some payback,” Becker said.
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