ROCHESTER, N.Y. – While the NCAA East Regional proved a welcoming venue for UMaine in its drive to the Frozen Four, it was not exactly the kind of environment to which the Bears are accustomed.
Rochester had the poorest attendance of any of the NCAA sites, and that could be said even before the Midwest and West regionals were concluded Sunday.
Over two days, UMaine played in front of only 7,409 fans, an average of 3,705 per game. And there were far fewer than that in the 11,215-seat Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial for Friday’s first-round contest.
The Bears’ second-round victory over Massachusetts was viewed by only 3,522 spectators, the smallest crowd for any regional game this season. UMaine averaged 5,413 fans for its home games at Alfond Arena in Orono this season.
UMaine was well-represented in the stands by a large gathering of fans clad in blue and white. The contingent of 200-300, and a tireless effort by the UMaine pep band, helped spur on the Bears and generate some enthusiasm in the arena.
The team took the time to go over and salute the delirious fans Saturday after beating the Minutemen.
The West Regional in Denver boasted an attendance of 11,171 on Saturday alone, while 9,015 fans showed up Saturday at the Northeast Region at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. Both sites hosted games again Sunday.
Meanwhile, the attendance woes also were evident in Grand Rapids, Mich., where a total of 10,010 hockey aficionados took in the three games at the Midwest Regional.
You’ve gotta believe
It wouldn’t have been out of the question for the Bears to have allowed their late-season stumble to demoralize them.
Not only did UMaine drop six of its last eight games, the Bears weren’t a team that was generating much buzz among the so-called experts prior to the NCAA Tournament.
“We were watching on TV who was going to make the final 16 and nobody talked about us,” said senior Michel Leveille. “Everybody was counting us out.”
What the Bears knew, and nobody else seemed to realize, was they weren’t about to squander a second chance if they got one.
“We knew coming out that we could do some damage,” Leveille said. “The fact that we were almost out gave us a huge boost.”
No more pressure
Having put themselves through considerable mental anguish and pressure this season, there wasn’t anything to get worked up about once the Bears arrived in Rochester.
“The guys’ attitude coming into the tournament was 180 degrees different from what it was the last two weeks of the year,” said sophomore Ben Bishop. “We didn’t have stress on us, and the guys were just able to come out here and play and have fun.”
UMaine feels even more relaxed now that it is headed for St. Louis.
“Now that we’re in it [the Frozen Four], everybody’s relaxed,” Bishop said. “It kind of feels like the beginning of the year. It feels like a new season for us.”