Patrick Holway looks to transition the puck up the ice during a 2018 hockey game with the University of Maine. The defenseman returns to Alfond Arena on Friday as a member of the Merrimack College squad. Credit: Peter Buehner

Patrick Holway was a valuable member of the defense corps at the University of Maine for two seasons.

He was the team’s second-leading scorer among defensemen both years.

But Holway left the program after school had started in the fall of 2018.

“I need to get back closer to home. It’s a personal matter and that’s all I can say,” he said at the time.

Holway is back in Orono. This time, he’s playing for Merrimack College in a vital Hockey East series against his former teammates at UMaine.

UMaine (12-9-4 overall, 6-7-2 HE) and Merrimack (6-16-3, 4-8-3 HE) play at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at 7 p.m. Saturday at Alfond Arena.

UMaine head coach Red Gendron again declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Holway’s departure.

Holway will be warmly received by his former Black Bear teammates.

“He’s a buddy to most of us. It will be fun, if anything,” UMaine senior left wing and assistant captain Ryan Smith said. “But it’s just another game and once the puck drops, there won’t be any friends out there.”

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Holway sat out a year under NCAA transfer rules and became eligible for the second semester this season. The sixth-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings (170th overall in 2015) made his Merrimack debut in a 4-1 loss at Minnesota-Duluth on Dec. 29.

Through eight games, he has two goals and three assists, including the tying goal with 2:30 left on Jan. 24 that helped Merrimack salvage a 5-5 tie against Vermont.

“It’ll be a little different because he is good friends with a lot of guys on the team,” said UMaine senior left wing and captain Mitch Fossier, who expects plenty of intensity from Holway.

“He will come in with an edge. He’ll want to win more than anything against us. I know he’ll be fired up and his team will be fired up for him,” Fossier said.

The Black Bears respect Holway’s talent and say there won’t be any hostility toward him.

“He’s a good puck-moving defenseman who can score goals,” senior center Tim Doherty said. “We have to keep an eye on him.”

Holway, a native of Cohasset, Massachusetts, registered four goals and nine assists in 33 games as a freshman at UMaine and 6 goals and 13 assists in 33 games his sophomore year.

Merrimack has more Maine ties in this series.

Senior center Tyler Drevitch and his brother, sophomore left wing Logan Drevitch, are the sons of former UMaine defenseman Scott Drevitch, who played the 1984-1985 season for the Black Bears. He then transferred to UMass Lowell.

And second-year head coach Scott Borek coached Colby College in Waterville from 1993-1996 and was a finalist for Division III Coach of the Year in 1994.