The University of Maine’s Alfond Arena has been a daunting rink for opposing teams.
But the home-ice advantage hasn’t been as pronounced the past two seasons.
And the Black Bears would like to continue to re-establish it this weekend when they host a Merrimack College team that will be eager to snap a 17-game winless skein (0-16-1) at Alfond Arena dating back to a 5-4 triumph on Nov. 14, 1997.
The Warriors will have an opportunity to do so at the expense of backup goalie Dave Wilson on Friday night as freshman standout Scott Darling has been suspended for a game for violating team rules.
The Bears were an uncharacteristic 7-7-2 at home last season after going 10-5 in 2006-2007.
And they lost their first two home games to Northeastern this season.
But they have won their last three home games and they know the value of home wins.
Excluding forfeits resulting from NCAA violations, Maine has a lifetime home record of 374-150-35.
“We’ve talked about that from the beginning of the season,” said senior center Chris Hahn. “We didn’t want last year to become a continuing pattern. We want to get away from that. Historically, this has been a real intimidating place to play and we want to get back to that.
“A big part of that has been our [large] crowds and we’ve lost that a little bit, too, after having a down year last year,” added Hahn. “But we’ve had some good crowds early this year and we want to keep them coming back.”
“Last year, we didn’t play as well as we would have liked at home,” said sophomore center Tanner House. “This year, we’ve focused on that. We want our fans to know we’re going to be ready to go [from the opening faceoff]. We want our fans back behind us because it adds a whole new element to our game. Momentum [generated by the crowd] is huge for us.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead explained that part of the problem last season was “we had a bunch of seniors who felt a lot of pressure to live up to [the home ice record].”
Injuries and that added pressure contributed to a 3-7-2 home record until the Bears were able to finish with four straight wins.
Whitehead feels his young team has played well in every home game this season, including the 5-0 and 2-1 losses to Northeastern. He added that he has been impressed by the crowds this season considering the tough economic times and the fact the Bears were 13-18-3 a year ago.
Merrimack College coach Mark Dennehy, who played at Alfond Arena for Boston College, called Alfond Arena a “fun place to play.
“You’ve got to embrace going to Alfond Arena or it’ll eat you up,” said Dennehy. “They get energy off the fans. It’s a game of momentum and they can get it cooking as well as anybody.”