The University of Maine men's hockey team follows the action from the bench during Saturday night's Hockey East game against New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center in Durham, New Hampshire on Dec. 12. The Wildcats beat the Black Bears 6-2. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

The University of Maine’s hockey series at Penn State on Friday and Saturday has been canceled due to COVID-19 cases at UMaine.

It would have been the Black Bears’ first-ever meeting with Big Ten member Penn State, which became a Division I program in the 2012-13 season.

There were just 16 skaters along with three goalies at Tuesday’s practice. Teams are allowed 19 skaters for a game to go with two or three goalies.

UMaine also has some injured players.

UMaine is next scheduled to host the University of Alaska from Fairbanks for a two-game series on Jan. 7-8.

All hockey program personnel have been vaccinated but they were required to be tested for COVID-19 after returning from the Christmas break and there were some positive tests.

Some institutions test their players and others don’t.

“We were sitting at home the past couple of weeks seeing what was happening in the pro leagues,” said UMaine first-year head coach Ben Barr.

“There is no right or wrong answer to it. It’s frustrating because you want the guys to be able to play, especially with what everyone went through last year here,” said Barr, referring to COVID-19 cases that resulted in several interruptions.

Last season, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and University of Maine guidelines prevented the hockey team from playing a regular season home game. All of its 15 regular season games were played on the road before the Black Bears finally got to host a game against the University of New Hampshire in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.

UNH won 7-2.

“But we have to find a way to get better,” said Barr, whose Black Bears are 2-11-4 but are riding a three-game unbeaten streak (1-0-2). “I told the guys we have to find a way to use this. Let’s use it as a time to get better so whenever we get back out there and play, we aren’t feeling sorry for ourselves.”

UMaine captain and center Jack Quinlivan said they would have much rather taken the 10-hour bus ride to Penn State than sit out this weekend.

“But I guess the whole world is used to this thing by now,” Quinlivan said. “It’s been almost two years. Everyone is pretty sick of it but you just have to follow protocol and stick to what’s best for everyone.”

Senior left wing Jacob Schmidt-Svejustrup said they have had a good break and they have all done the work that is needed to be ready for the second half.

“The last two or three days, we have been looking pretty good. Obviously, this sucks. We’re ready to play. But it is what it is,” he said.

He was one of the players who had to miss time a year ago due to COVID-19.

Sophomore center Lynden Breen said they were looking forward to building on the momentum they gained the last three games and get the second half off to a good start at Penn State.

“It was a tough go last year. This isn’t what we wanted. All we can do now is work to get better,” Breen said.