A roller-coaster regular season is now behind the University of Maine’s women’s ice hockey team.
It’s time for the Hockey East playoffs.
The Black Bears — 15-17-2 overall and 12-13-2 in Hockey East — earned the sixth seed for the single-elimination playoffs and will travel to take on third seed Providence College — 20-10-4, 15-8-4 — in Saturday’s 3 p.m. quarterfinal game at Schneider Arena in Providence, Rhode Island.
The players had to deal with a massive upheaval before the season when head coach Richard Reichenbach and his top assistant coach, his wife Sara, resigned in late July.
That left outgoing athletic director Ken Ralph scrambling for a replacement.
Two-time United States Olympian Molly Engstrom was hired on Aug. 16 and is looking forward to her first playoff game as a head coach.
UMaine lost to Providence 3-0 and 5-1 on Nov. 18-19 in Providence before the teams skated to a 4-4 tie on Jan. 28 at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn.
“We’ve had a good week of practice. We’re well-prepared,” said Engstrom, who was chosen the best defenseman at the 2010 Olympic Games.
Engstrom knows her team is capable of beating anyone as shown in its 1-0 win over Northeastern on Oct. 22, one of just two losses absorbed by the 30-2-1 Huskies this season.
“It’s a matter of putting the pieces together,” she said.
The Black Bears will be looking to advance to the semifinals for the fourth straight year.
They won four playoff road games the previous three seasons to reach the semifinals, where they were eliminated.
She said Providence has some skillful players so “we are going to have to take away their time and space with the puck.”
Providence’s primary scoring threat is All-Hockey East first team forward Sara Hjalmarsson, who has 20 goals and 12 assists. She has a team-high five game-winning goals.
The Friars also have an eight-goal scorer in Noemi Neubauerova and defenseman Lauren DeBlois from Lewiston has six goals and 10 assists and is a All-Hockey East second team pick.
UMaine’s twin sisters, Luisa Welcke (8 goals, 14 assists) and Lilli Welcke (6 & 15), were chosen to the league’s All-Rookie team. UMaine’s leading scorer is Mira Seregely (11 & 12) and the Black Bears have two others with double-digit goals in Alyssa Wruble (12 & 9) and Grace Heiting (10 & 7).
Elise Morphy (4 & 8) has anchored the defense corps.