FTS Tourney Time: Men’s Hockey

In the world of collegiate athletics, the month of March is synonymous with just one word…MADNESS!!!  This weekend, the madness begins in earnest, as the “big three” UMaine winter sports teams embark on their quest to conquer their conference foes and earn automatic qualification into their respective NCAA tournaments by winning their conference championship.

Today, we conclude our three part FTS Tourney Time series with a look at the Main(e) Event of the weekend, hockey’s Saturday night clash with Merrimack in a win-or-go-home playoff game at the Alfond:

Looking at the 2013-14 hockey season objectively, a true UMaine supporter can’t deny the program is moving in the right direction.  With Tim Whitehead out and Red Gendron in, there’s been a level of enthusiasm, passion, and excitement brought back to the program that we haven’t felt in a decade.  Beyond those intangibles, the tangibles are there, too.  Compared to last year, Maine has won four more games, lost six fewer contests, and increased their points percentage by 136 points.

Unfortunately for the team and its fans, however, the Black Bears head into the Hockey East tournament on a bit of a skid, having earned just one point from their last four contests of the season.  Those results include being swept at home by Providence to drop Maine from the #3 seed in Hockey East to the #6 seed entering the conference tournament.

As a result of that end-of-season slide, our heroes find themselves without a first round bye in the Hockey East tournament.  Instead, Maine must win a one-game playoff against conference cellar-dwellers Merrimack in order to earn that chance at revenge next weekend against the aforementioned Friars.

On the bright side, there is very, very good news out of all of this for the Black Bears: Merrimack stinks.  The Warriors finished the regular season with an overall record of 8-21-3 and a mark of 3-15-2 in Hockey East.  Maine also swept Merrimack in their only meetings of the season, a Valentine’s weekend series at the Alfond.  In those two contests, Maine outshot Merrimack by a combined total of 61-49.  As long as the Bears can keep the Warriors’ goaltender (whether it’s Rasmus Tirronen or Sam Marotta) busier than the superior Martin Ouellette, Maine should be all right.

Despite the Black Bears’ recent form, we expect Maine to pull this one out, thanks in no small part to what should be a raucous Alfond crowd, by the score of 3-1.  We think Merrimack will keep it close, as they did back in February, but Maine will notch a late empty-netter to seal the deal. 

From there, it’ll be a pick ’em best-of-three series against Providence for the right to advance to the conference semifinals.  But let’s get this one in the record books first, shall we?

Let us know what you think about our prediction for Saturday’s hockey game.  Leave your picks in the comments section below and join the conversation on Twitter using #FTSTourneyTime!!!

Be sure to listen to the University Credit Union Fill The Steins Podcast LIVE this Sunday at 7pm ET (and available thereafter in our archives section).  We’ll be joined by WMEB’s Cody Beckett to recap hockey’s big game against Merrimack.  Adam and Brian will also break down the men’s and women’s basketball games from the America East tournament in Albany.  Don’t miss it!!!

Photo courtesy www.goblackbears.com

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