Orono, Maine -- The Red Gendron era has gotten off to a good start especially on home ice at the Alfond Arena. The University of Maine men's hockey team has treated its fans to three consecutive victories after winning just twice in front of them last year.
This weekend the Black Bears host a pesky Vermont team looking to prove doubters wrong. The Catamounts, picked ninth in the preseason by both the media and coaches, have gotten off to an unexpectedly solid start. Kevin Sneddon's team went out to Grand Forks in the first week of the season and put up a good fight against North Dakota. UVM led by two goals in the first game before losing, 5-3. The next night the Catamounts skated to a draw with UND. UVM pulled together a two game winning streak with victories over Penn State and Notre Dame before blowing a two-goal lead against the Fighting Irish last Saturday night and falling, 3-2.
With Kyle Reynolds out for the season with an injury, the UVM offense has seen contributions from many including freshman defenseman Rob Hamilton. The two key offensive players are senior Chris McCarthy and junior Jake Fallon. Maine will also need to keep an eye on sophomore Robert Polesello, a former BU recruit, who has two goals on the season.
An injury to returning starting goaltender Brody Hoffman gave freshman Michael Santaguida an opportunity to prove he was capable of backstopping the Catamounts. The Mississauga, Ontario native has a 2.56 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. He's already had to endure the pressure of playing at Ralph Engelstad Arena against North Dakota and in an NHL building with a pro-Penn State crowd.
Maine had a tough weekend on the road in Amherst against Massachusetts last weekend, but there are plenty of promising signs from the first month of game action in the Red Gendron era. The team seems to be playing with more intensity and more aggression than it did a year ago.
Senior Mark Anthoine has four goals and two assists in an attempt to regain his sophomore year form. Three freshmen, Blaine Byron, Cam Brown and Josh Henke, are all in the top five for team scoring.
The Black Bears have only scored more than two goals in two of the seven games this season, including an 8-4 triumph over UMass. It's obvious that Maine will need to score more than two goals per game in order to have success this season. Sophomores Devin Shore and Ryan Lomberg will be counted on to step up their production. Shore, a Dallas Stars prospect, is a highly respected all-around player so much so that the opposing team often shadows him every shift.
Sophomore defenseman Ben Hutton has stepped into the offense from the blue line. The Vancouver Canucks pick has two goals and two assists, but he has also significantly improved his play in his own zone over his rookie campaign.
Senior goaltender Martin Ouellette has a 2.39 goals against average and a .919 save percentage, but his impact has exceeded his raw numbers. The Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick has made some huge saves when he's been hung out to dry by his defense.
The Black Bears will need to be more effective on the power play and cut down on undisciplined penalties to keep their home winning streak alive. This series will be a tough test for both teams, but it's one that both teams believe they should win.
Game time is 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at the Alfond Arena in Orono.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.