University of Maine forward Tim Doherty, right, celebrates a goal with teammate Jakub Sirota during a game against the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Jan. 3, 2020 at Alfond Arena in Orono. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Like many people, Red Gendron has a lot on his mind these days.

“I look at how hard so many people have worked under intense pressure,” said Gendron, University of Maine men’s hockey coach. “It’s inspirational to me.”

Gendron is preparing his team for a season during the coronavirus pandemic that could begin in late November or, perhaps, not at all.

He’s not alone; many college hockey programs across the state are anxiously waiting to see what comes of a 2020-21 season.

The Black Bears compete in Division I Hockey East, which has yet to announce a schedule for the season, although Gendron said he anticipates that coming in the next few weeks with a late November start.

Colby and Bowdoin colleges, who compete in Division III, received some clarity when the New England Small College Athletic Conference announced it had canceled conference competition and championships for the 2020-21 winter sports season.

Others, like the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England, are in a wait-and-see mode.

“The hard part is all the unknowns,” said USM women’s hockey coach John Lauziere. “We could be doing all the right things, and something could happen at an opponent’s school that shuts it all down.”

Earlier this month, a hockey referee tested positive for COVID-19 after officiating multiple games in Maine and New Hampshire. The incident spurred debate about safety guidelines in youth hockey leagues across the state.

College hockey coaches acknowledged they’re aware of the youth hockey situation.

“I’m actually surprised the guy wasn’t wearing a mask (officiating) youth hockey,” Lauziere said.

Lauziere added that his team wears masks while practicing three or four times per week, and will continue to do so until USM students leave for an extended winter break the week of Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, at UMaine, Gendron and women’s hockey head coach Richard Reichenbach said their teams have progressed from practicing in small groups of eight to full-team workouts. Both Black Bear squads are wearing masks and using multiple locker rooms to change before and after practice.The Black Bears compete in Hockey East, which hasn’t released a schedule yet.

University of New England players celebrate after a goal against Colby College during a 2018 Division III playoff game in Biddeford. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

UMaine students will go home at Thanksgiving break and finish the semester remotely. That could give Black Bear student-athletes still on campus an unanticipated boost.

“Students are gone for break, that creates the best version of a pod you could ask for on a campus,” Reichenbach said.

Both Black Bears squads would already be well into their seasons in a typical year. The men’s team opened last season on Oct. 5 at Providence, while the women began play Sept. 27 with an exhibition game against the University of New Brunswick.

Some Division III hockey teams in the state opened last season in late October, although Colby and Bowdoin played their first games in mid-November.

“We’ve had outstanding spirit with the players. They have an attitude of gratitude. The players have done a real good job, even if it’s different,” Gendron said. “At times we haven’t practiced because that’s all we can do and we don’t want to drive the guys crazy.”

USM’s conference, the New England Hockey Conference, will not begin play until January. The same goes for the Commonwealth Coast Conference, of which the University of New England is a member.

“We’re hoping that’s what happens. There’s a lot of hurdles to get over before that happens,” said UNE men’s hockey coach Kevin Swallow.

Both UNE hockey teams are holding practices with 12 players — approximately half their squad — at a time.

At USM, Lauziere said the plan is for his team to return from break around the start of the new year and get some practices in before games begin.

“They’ll be off from the week of Thanksgiving. We need to get them into game shape before we play any games,” Lauziere said.

It remains to be seen if the state will sign off on collegiate athletic teams traveling out of state for games, as well as allowing out-of-state opponents into Maine for competition.

If travel is restricted, the state’s Division III teams could play each other. Colby and Bowdoin, of the NESCAC, have discussed possible non-conference competition this winter.

Lauziere, the USM women’s coach, added that in one proposal, his Huskies would play Colby, Bowdoin, and UNE four times each.

University of Maine and University of Nebraska-Omaha players mix it up during a game on Jan. 3, 2020 at the Alfond Arena in Orono. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It would be something I’d be willing to do,” Lauziere said. “Nobody is overreacting. The best case scenario is a 12-game season, conference only, with a conference tournament.”

UMaine, which fields the only Division I programs in the state, doesn’t have an in-state fallback option. The Black Bears have to travel outside Maine to play, and would need to host out-of-state opponents. Gendron said he is regularly updated by athletic director Ken Ralph and deputy director of athletics Brian Faison. Gendron added he is optimistic the Black Bears will take part in a Hockey East season.

“The athletic directors and coaches and school hierarchies have all been working so hard to do this and do this the right way,” Gendron said. “I believe Hockey East is going to start playing in November at the end of the month. In the meantime, all these challenges — and they’re legitimate — all the (coronavirus) testing and the travel, all will be met and we’ll start playing.”

When the games do begin, the focus will be the same as always, Gendron said.

“We want to win a league championship. We want to win a national championship,” he said.

For now, every college hockey program in the state practices, and waits.

“We’d certainly love to play next semester, but there’s things that are out of control as a team and as a university,” said UNE women’s hockey coach David Venditti.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 

 

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