The University of Maine men’s hockey team is expecting to play this weekend against the University of Alaska at Fairbanks in Orono, after having to cancel last weekend’s series against Penn State due to a number of COVID-19 cases among UMaine players.
Some players who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have had to quarantine since returning from Christmas break are still missing, but others are returning to the lineup after missing games due to injury.
“We will find a way to play although I don’t know what the numbers will be,” said Barr, who added that the number of players available varies from practice to practice.
Ideally, he would like to have at least nine forwards and six defensemen in addition to three goalies. Teams are allowed to dress 19 skaters and three goalies for games.
UMaine hasn’t played since it beat Union 4-3 on Dec. 11.
UMaine’s players and staff personnel were all tested after returning from the Christmas break on Dec. 26 and had been notified beforehand that they would be tested before starting practices. There was also an additional round of testing before the team left Orono for the Penn State series, to protect the players and staff from an outbreak that could lead to a shutdown.
Barr said the players who have contracted COVID-19 have had either mild symptoms or have been asymptomatic.
All of the members of the UMaine hockey program are fully vaccinated.
The team is following protocols from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, including the recent update that reduced the quarantine period from 10 days to five as long as the person is asymptomatic. That person must wear a face mask for the next five days.
Before the break, student-athletes were only tested when a player showed symptoms of COVID-19.
“What we’re dealing with is finding out who is eligible. There have been a lot of moving parts,” Barr said. “It seems like protocols are changing all the time. It’s a fluid situation.”
The UMaine coach said safety is the number one priority but also said it is important to play if at all possible. Due to state and university protocols, last year UMaine had to play all 15 of its regular season games on the road before it was able to host a Hockey East playoff game which it lost to New Hampshire 7-2.
“I worry about their mental well-being,” Barr said. “I don’t have the answer. It’s a tough deal for the kids. But if we have the opportunity to play hockey safely, let’s play hockey. They’re excited to play.”
The roster has been somewhat depleted this season due to injuries and departures in addition to the coronavirus.
Defensemen Dominic Dockery, Kabore Dunn and Perry Winfree decided to leave the program last month. Merrimack College transfer Dockery was a regular but Dunn appeared in only four games and Winfree played in just two.
They have added a new defenseman in Sam Duerr.
Left wingers Grant Hebert and Matthew Fawcett and right wing Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup were sidelined by concussions and winger Brad Morrissey has been out with a knee injury.
None of them played against Union but Barr said Schmidt-Svejstrup and Hebert have returned and will be available this weekend. Fawcett is also back but his status for the weekend is up in the air.
The team has already had several games where they were missing six or seven players due to injury and COVID-19, so Barr said they are used to being short-handed.
Because of the team’s reduced players in practice, Barr has implemented more individual skills drills.
“I told the players they can either see themselves as victims and feel sorry for themselves and mope around or they can find a way to get better every single day whether we have 25 guys on the ice or 10 guys,” he said. “I’m actually having a lot of fun with the kids. Spending more time on individual [development] rather than team stuff isn’t a bad thing.”
UMaine will take a 2-11-4 record and a three-game unbeaten streak (1-0-2) into this weekend’s series.
Alaska, which is a Division I independent after the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) dissolved in July, is 4-13-1 but has played 10 games against teams ranked in the top 15 in the current U.S. College Hockey Online poll and has a tie and four overtime losses among in its 0-9-1 showing against them.
Coach Erik Largen’s Nanooks, who practiced at UMaine’s Alfond Arena on Monday, are coming off a 4-4 tie at No. 7 Denver after a 7-2 loss the first night.
These will be their 11th and 12th road games.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourselves when you see what they’re going through,” said Barr. “We owe it to them to play,” Barr said. “They’re a very good team and they’re really well-coached. They play really hard and they’ve played some very good teams. It will be a great challenge for us.”
The teams will play at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday. Following this weekend’s series, UMaine will return to Hockey East play at UMass Lowell for a pair on Jan. 14-15.