The University of Maine’s Alfond Arena was alive over the weekend when Boston College visited for a two-game Hockey East series.
It felt like the glory days.
The Arena was rocking like it was from the 1986-87 season to the 2011-12 campaign when the Black Bears earned 18 NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 trips to the Frozen Four and won two NCAA championships.
There were 4,870 fans on Friday night and a sold-out crowd of 5,043 on Saturday night even though it was during the high school basketball tournament week.
UMaine swept the Eagles 6-3 and 2-1 to extend its unbeaten streak to seven games (4-0-3).
The fans have rallied behind this youthful band of gritty, tenacious Black Bears — the only team among the 11 in Hockey East without a National Hockey League draft pick on its roster.
The culture is changing and fans realize the team is trending in the right direction.
The Black Bears went 3-0 this season against a young, talented Boston College team with 10 NHL draft choices.
A testament to BC’s skill is the fact the Eagles scored all four of their goals on the power play over the weekend against a good penalty-killing UMaine team.
Just because you don’t have NHL draft choices doesn’t mean you can’t have a good team.
The school’s all-time leading scorer with 301 points, current Boston Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, wasn’t drafted.
But there were plenty of NHL picks on the UMaine teams he played on, including a first-round pick named Paul Kariya who is in the NHL Hall of Fame.
In the weekend sweep of Boston College, 12 of the 19 skaters each night for the Black Bears were freshmen or sophomores.
Four of the seven defensemen and five of the 12 forwards were freshmen and one of their top three defensemen, freshman Brandon Holt, is out with a broken finger.
Their blueprint for success was exhibited in the two wins against a BC team that had won three in a row entering the series.
On Friday night, 12 different Black Bears had a goal or an assist.
Second-year head coach Ben Barr has always maintained that this team has to receive contributions from every player in the lineup if it is going to win. They don’t have the luxury of players having off-nights.
On Saturday night, junior goalie Victor Ostman made 31 saves, including two breakaway stops. It was the 12th time this season that he has held an opponent to one goal or less. And his teammates finished their checks and backchecked tirelessly.
UMaine has now allowed just 17 goals over its last 10 games.
Ostman has the nation’s sixth-best goals-against average (2.05) and seventh-best save percentage (.926).
“It has become a standard for him,” said UMaine sophomore center Nolan Renwick. “Nothing surprises us about his performances. We know [Ostman] is going to give us that kind of effort every night and that is huge for us going down the stretch.”
Renwick added that it gives the team more confidence having Ostman in net.
“If we can limit the Grade-A (high-percentage) chances, take care of guys in front of our net and not give up rebounds, we’re going to have a lot of success, defensively,” Renwick said.
UMaine is now 6-1 over their last seven home games and the players credited their fans for giving them an important home ice advantage.
UMaine is 11-4-1 at home and all four losses were to nationally-ranked teams.
“Maine plays hard and heavy,” said BC coach Greg Brown. “They play to their identity very well. They’re tough to beat.”
Coming into this season, the Black Bears had won just six of their previous 19 home games (6-10-3).
“It’s so much fun playing in front of these fans. It’s the best place to play in college hockey,” said Renwick. “You look at our home record and you look at our away record (4-9-4) and they’re a big reason why that is.”
“It’s great. It feels like we have the whole state and the whole community behind us,” said junior right wing Donavan Houle.
“When you have everyone cheering for you, there are no excuses for not working hard or not giving it your best effort,” Houle added.
UMaine, now 15-13-5 overall and 9-9-4 in Hockey East, is 9-4-3 in its last 16 league games and is guaranteed to at least host a first-round playoff game. There is a remote chance it could earn a first-round bye.
UMaine could finish anywhere from fourth to eighth as the regular season winds down with two home games remaining against the University of Massachusetts this weekend.
The top five teams earn first-round byes in the single-elimination format, with teams that wind up sixth, seventh and eighth hosting teams that end up 11th, 10th and ninth, respectively.
UMaine and Providence are tied for sixth with 32 points. Fifth place University of Massachusetts Lowell is fifth with 36 and fourth-place University of Connecticut has 38 points.
BC has 27 points and is in eighth place followed by New Hampshire (23), UMass (22) and Vermont (15).
Teams earn three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss.
If two teams are tied, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head. If three or more teams are tied, it goes to winning percentage. UMaine would lose a two-team tiebreaker with UMass Lowell and UConn and win the tiebreaker against Providence and BC.
UMaine was picked to finish last in the preseason coaches poll. To enter the last weekend of the regular season with a chance to finish in the top six says something about the character of this youthful team and the players’ desire to return the program to prominence.
UMaine hasn’t reached the Hockey East semifinals or qualified for the NCAA Tournament since the 2011-12 season.