After starting the season with an undefeated run through their non-conference schedule and being ranked as high as #1 in the country, the Maine Black Bears (21-12-2), now ranked #14, struggled through the Hockey East schedule. The Black Bears finished fifth in the conference and failed to get home-ice advantage in the first round of the conference tournament, which opens this weekend with Maine against #15 Massachusetts.
Despite their rough road this season, defenseman Mike Lundin  has continued his consistent play on the blue-line for the Black Bears, becoming a leader in the locker room. This has him optimistic about his future in hockey and with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Through his four years at the University of Maine, the 6â€™2" 180 lb, Lundin has been a quiet player, flying under the media radar. He has put up 13 goals and 53 assists for a total of 66 points in his collegiate career and has become one of the better special teams players in the league.
In his freshman season in 2003-2004, he was the only first-year player to play in all 44 games for Maine, while the Black Bears went all the way to the Frozen Four. He recorded an assist on Dustin Pennerâ€™s game-winning goal against Boston College in the semi-finals during their run that eventually ended in a loss to Denver in the national championship. Lundinâ€™s reward for an excellent freshman season, where he recorded three goals and 16 assists, was being selected in the fourth round (102 overall) of the 2004 draft by the Stanley Cup champions.
â€œIt was a big thrill for me,â€ the Apple Valley, Minn. native said of being drafted by the Lightning. â€œBeing selected by a team that just won the Cup meant that I was going to a team that knew how to win and was a good organization heading in the right direction.â€
In addition to the fact that Tampa had just won the Cup, it was also a team that boasted players that had played at the college level and also slipped through the media radar to become successful NHL players. Perhaps the most popular example is Martin St.Louis, who was part of a great duo with now Lightning teammate Eric Perrin  at the University of Vermont.
â€œSeeing guys like (St.Louis) definitely gives me hope,â€ Lundin said of players that not many people have heard of coming out of college. â€œIâ€™m not a guy who puts up big numbers, so for me to make it, Iâ€™m going to have to work hard and to know this team has players that have been where I am is promising.â€
Another player that has come through the college level and is now excelling in the NHL is Lundinâ€™s former Maine teammate Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks, who is one of league's top rookies this season. Penner has 24 goals and 14 assists for 38 points this season, good for fifth among rookies.
â€œSeeing what Penner is doing gives players like me a lot of confidence for the future,â€ Lundin said. â€œHe was a quiet player his first year (at Maine), but he worked hard and really improved his game and now look where he his.â€
Penner redshirted his first year at Maine in 2002-2003, then recorded 11 goals and 12 assists in 2003-2004 and was awarded the Jack Selmer Award at the University of Maine as the team's most improved player.
Current Lightning defenseman Doug Janik  is also a University of Maine product.
Since his freshman season, Lundinâ€™s play has improved and along with that has come confidence. Heâ€™s on the ice in important defensive and offensive situations and helps to quarterback the top powerplay unit for the Black Bears. He has six goals and 11 assists this season while five of his six goals have come on the powerplay.
â€œI think the biggest difference in my game is my confidence,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m holding onto the puck a little more rather than just pushing it too quickly. Iâ€™m looking for the smart plays which has helped me learn a lot about the game especially on the powerplay.â€
His focus at the moment is on the Black Bears' postseason, but when asked about next season and Lightning training camp he knows what he wants to bring to the table.
â€œStrength and confidence. Iâ€™m more confident in my play and myself and I know to be able to make the jump to the next level I have to keep working and getting stronger.â€
Lundin says there is nothing too specific he will work on this summer and plans to train where he grew up in the St.Paul, Minn area. Heâ€™ll be looking to show the Lightning staff he is worthy of a contract despite a plethora of defensemen within the system.
Lunidn and the Black Bears still have a big task right in front of them, however. They have the chance to get back to the Frozen Four, giving Lundin one more shot at a national title.
â€œWe just need to get some consistency,â€ Lundin said. â€œWeâ€™ve beaten some of the best teams in the nation. Itâ€™s been a tough season, but we need to be confident because we know we can play when we play at our best.â€
Game one of Maine's best of three series with Massachusetts is Friday night in Amherst, Mass. Maine is 1-2-0 against UMASS this season and was swept by the Minutemen just last weekend.