The University of Maine men’s hockey team not only failed to earn its 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth last season, the Black Bears didn’t even qualify for the Hockey East Tournament by finishing ninth. Eight of the 10 teams make it.
The league’s coaches feel the youthful Black Bears will again miss the Hockey East tourney as they were picked to finish ninth Monday in the annual preseason coaches poll.
It is the lowest the Bears have ever been selected.
The Maine women’s team was picked last in the eight-team Women’s Hockey East Association.
Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead and his players weren’t shocked by the poll.
“I wasn’t surprised at all given where we finished last year and [the fact] we lost our two elite players [left wing Andrew Sweetland and goalie Ben Bishop] to the pros,” said eighth-year coach Whitehead. “They’ve got to put us somewhere.”
Whitehead said they will use it as motivation.
“It never hurts to put a little fuel on the fire,” he said.
“We knew we were going to be picked pretty low,” said junior center-wing David de Kastrozza. “That’s what so fun about it, coming here and hoping to prove somebody wrong.”
“We finished ninth last year and you start where you finished the year before,” said sophomore center Keif Orsini. “It’s up to the new guys and the guys coming back to change that. We shouldn’t have any sympathy for ourselves. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Maine, 13-18-3 overall and 9-15-3 in Hockey East a year ago, opens the season Oct. 17-18 against Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks at the Alaskan Gold Rush Tournament in Fairbanks.
Maine has lost its top six scorers, two valuable senior defensemen and workhorse goalie Bishop.
“We expected this. We had a tough year last year,” said sophomore left wing Robby Dee. “This will help our team. We’re going to have to work a little harder on and off the ice to make the playoffs and do something special.”
Maine women’s coach Dan Lichterman said he fully expected to be chosen last after last year’s 4-27-3 (3-15-3 Hockey East) campaign.
“Perception is reality until we can change perception and change reality,” said second-year coach Lichterman. “I certainly don’t believe we’re an eighth-place team. I think we can be a top-four team.
“We’re a much more skilled team than last year and the players understand what we’re trying to accomplish a lot better because they’ve been around our staff for a year. And the group of kids coming in were recruited by our staff and they understand our beliefs and core value system,” Lichterman added.
Six teams make the women’s Hockey East tournament instead of four this season.
“Everyone is motivated to improve and we have a really strong freshman class,” said junior defenseman Elyce Thomas. “We’re very confident we can do something pretty substantial as a group.”
The Maine women open this weekend against visiting North Dakota on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Alexander joins Maine staff
Dave Alexander, a goaltending coach who has worked with some of the best goalies in the Maritime provinces, has been named the volunteer assistant coach for the Maine men’s team.
The 26-year-old Alexander, who has worked with a number of NHL draft choices and junior teams, is a Moncton, New Brunswick, native.
He said he is excited about his new post. He will replace Grant Standbrook, who retired.
“I’m from New Brunswick and everybody knows who the Black Bears are in our end of the country,” said Alexander. “And being able to come to an organization as reputable as Maine’s is and working with these guys, the staff here, has been nothing but the best.
“That is making it even more exciting for me. It’s an all-around professional organization,” added Alexander. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’ll definitely grow a lot from my time here.”
Alexander is a substitute teacher in Moncton and will drive four-plus hours one way to Orono where he will spend two days a week with the team.
“He’s a great addition,” said Whitehead. “He’s the unofficial guru of goaltending in the Maritimes.”