It won’t be like playing in their hometown, but it’s the next best thing.
For University of Maine junior defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin and freshman center Keif Orsini, playing a two-game series in Burlington, Vt., this weekend against the University of Vermont is like somebody from Augusta playing at the University of Maine.
They are from Montreal and that is approximately an hour and a half from Burlington. Maybe a little less.
Maine is fighting for a Hockey East playoff berth while Vermont is trying to earn its first home-ice berth for the quarterfinals in its third season in the league.
Ninth-place Maine is two points behind eighth-place Massachusetts and five behind seventh-place UMass Lowell.
Vermont is tied for second with Boston University. The Catamounts are one point ahead of Boston College and three ahead of Northeastern and Providence.
Danis-Pepin and Orsini said they will have extra incentive as plenty of family members and friends will be on hand to cheer them on.
“There are going to be people there that haven’t seen me play since midgets,” said Danis-Pepin. “It’s going to be exciting to have my family and friends there. It’ll give me an extra boost.”
Orsini said that in addition to family and friends, “some of my old coaches are coming.”
“It’s going to be nice. I’m looking forward to it,” said Orsini.
There could be as many as 23 people coming to watch Danis-Pepin and 15-20 on hand to see Orsini.
In addition, Maine coach Tim Whitehead’s sister, Priscilla, husband Drazen and their four children will make the trip down from Montreal.
“It’s also a lot closer for the families of the players from Ontario,” said Whitehead.
Seven Bears hail from Ontario.
Danis-Pepin and Orsini know they can’t allow their excitement to hinder their performance. They know they can’t overextend themselves.
“I’m just going to play my game, but I might do a little extra,” said Orsini.
Danis-Pepin is having his best season offensively with four goals and five assists in 30 games, including three goals and three assists in his last 10 games.
“But I’ve got to play better in the defensive zone,” said Danis-Pepin.
Orsini has three goals and two assists in 25 games, including the game-tying goal late in the third period of Maine’s 3-2 win over UMass on Saturday night.
“I’ve been coming along slowly,” said Orsini. “I’d been concentrating on playing good defense. But I’ve been getting more chances lately.”
UVM is 8-2-2 in its last 12 games, but Catamounts coach Kevin Sneddon knows Maine will pose a challenge.
“Any time you line up against a team with ‘Maine’ written across the jersey, you know they’re going to come to play. They’re a great team,” said Sneddon. “We aren’t looking at the standings or anything else. We’re just concerned about getting two points on Friday night and playing to the best of our ability.”
“Maine is playing some great hockey right now, so the two points are going to have to mean more to us than they are to them,” added Sneddon, who acknowledged that his Catamounts have been doing “some good things” lately.
Whitehead said the series will come down to “special teams and goaltending.”