University of Maine sophomore forward Tristan Poissant takes a shot on Alaska goalie Gustavs Grigals at the Alfond Arena in Orono on Jan. 7, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

University of Maine men’s hockey coach Ben Barr is looking for an opponent this weekend.

The team was supposed to be off this weekend, after it played a two-game set at UMass Lowell this past weekend and wasn’t scheduled to play again until it hosts Boston College on Friday, Jan. 28.

Because the team had to cancel its trip to Penn State on Dec. 31 due to COVID-19 cases at UMaine, it’s currently under the 34 regular season game threshold established by NCAA guidelines for Division I teams. If UMaine can’t find a game or two this weekend, it will mean the Black Bears will play just one game in a three-week span.

“We are limited geographically. We want to try to play at least one game. We’re going to do everything we can to play this weekend,” said Barr, who is looking to see if any teams in the region become available this weekend due to COVID-19 cases at their opponents’ schools. 

“It’s going to be a last-minute thing. But that’s the COVID world we are living in now. It has taught us that you need to be flexible.”

If they aren’t able to land a game, Barr said they will alter their practice routine.

“We don’t have a lot of time to talk when they have class and games coming up on the weekend,” Barr said. “I value what our players are thinking. How can we improve our culture? What things can we do to improve [on the ice]? Are there things we can do better as a coaching staff?”

Black Bear senior defenseman Jakub Sirota said regardless of the game situation, the team’s focus won’t change.

“We come to work every day and do the best we can whether we’re playing or not,” Sirota said.

UMaine went toe-to-toe with No. 12 UMass Lowell on the road last weekend and wound up losing both games 5-3 and 4-3, respectively after falling behind 3-0 after one period in each contest. 

Despite the team’s 3-14-4 record and last place standing in Hockey East (1-10-2), Barr said his team has grown.

“But the reality is it hasn’t gotten us the wins that we’re looking for. … We have to pull ourselves out of this. We have to go into games expecting to win rather than hoping to win,” Barr said. 

“Most of the guys have the work ethic and compete level we were looking for in the first half. Now we have to execute. We need to get that big save to keep us in games or score that goal on a breakaway or a two-on-one to give us a lead rather than fighting from behind all the time.”

Sirota said it requires being focused from the opening whistle and eliminating mistakes.

“Personal breakdowns have cost us and when you play in Hockey East, teams take advantage of them,” Sirota said. 

UMaine is 2-3-2 in its last seven games and 14 of its last 16 games have been decided by two or fewer goals with 10 being either a one-goal game or a tie.

Defenseman Sam Duerr has seemingly made a smooth transition to college hockey after joining the team in midseason from the St. Cloud Norsemen of the North American Hockey League.  The Chicago native has has two assists in four games.

“He has gotten a little better every game and that’s all you can ask from him,” Barr said. “He has the right attitude and is taking advantage of a great opportunity.”

Duerr said his first four games have been “awesome” and there was a significant adjustment from junior hockey to college hockey, but that he enjoys the game day atmosphere.

“Everybody is so dialed in and everyone lifts each other up,” he said. “It’s awesome.”