The University of Maine men’s hockey team returns six of its top eight scorers and four defensemen who played in at least 34 games and both goalies.
But the Hockey East coaches don’t foresee any improvement in terms of the standings.
The Black Bears have been chosen to finish eighth in a poll among the coaches. They finished eighth last year after being chosen ninth in the preseason poll.
Maine finished ninth two years ago.
Defending national champion Boston University is the favorite to claim the regular season championship. BU received six first-place votes and 84 points overall.
UMass Lowell was second with 79 points and two first-place votes and Boston College was third with 76 points and two first-place votes. New Hampshire and Vermont were tied for fourth with 59 points apiece followed by Northeastern (57), UMass (47), Maine (32), Providence (24) and Merrimack (23).
“I’m a little bit surprised. I thought we might have been picked a little higher, personally,” said Maine junior defenseman Mike Banwell. “But we’ll just use it as motivation, especially the older guys.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said the ranking came as no surprise to him.
“It’s typical. Teams usually get picked where they finished the previous year unless there are bizarre circumstances in which a team lost a lot or didn’t lose anything [from the previous year],” said Whitehead, who is in his ninth season at Maine.
“I don’t think we’re going to finish there but we have to prove it,” added Whitehead.
The Black Bears wound up 13-22-4 a year ago but went just 3-17-3 in their final 23 games.
As the eighth seed, Maine did extend Boston University to a third game in their Hockey East quarterfinal series after winning the second game 6-3.
It was the only loss BU suffered in its last 25 games and the six goals were the most allowed by the Terriers all season.
“The guys have worked extremely hard in the off-season and they’re very focused,” said Whitehead. “The most exciting part is that the culture of the team is back where it was a couple of years ago and that’s really exciting. Between the cuts we made and the players we’ve added the last few years, we’re getting the focus and energy back.”
Maine reached the NCAA Frozen Four in the 2006-2007 season, which marked the ninth consecutive year Maine had qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Maine hasn’t been back since.
Banwell admitted the team has been “a little bit disorganized” in their collaborations on the ice the last few years and said “it comes down to the players.”
He stressed that there is a genuine improvement in team chemistry and a subtle sense of confidence based on how they performed against the top teams a year ago.
Although Maine went just 2-12-1 against the four Hockey East teams that went to the NCAA Tournament (BU, Vermont, Northeastern, New Hampshire), seven of those losses were by a goal and four came on goals in the final 4:20 or in overtime.
“We know what we can do against the top teams. We’re motivated to exceed everybody’s expectations,” said Banwell.
Maine will have a Blue-White scrimmage Sunday at 4 and will open its season at Union College (N.Y.) on Oct. 9-10. Maine’s home openers will be the following weekend when Michigan State comes in for a two-game set on Oct. 16-17.
Hockey tickets available
UMaine hockey tickets for single games will go on sale today at the University of Maine ticket office in Alfond Arena. The ticket office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and can also be reached by calling 581-BEAR or 1-800-756-TEAM. Single game prices are $19 and $22 depending on the game.
The “Best of the Best” hockey ticket packs are also available for $160. This pack includes tickets for the Michigan State, New Hampshire, Boston University, Boston College, and Vermont games, a total of eight games.
Season tickets for both football and ice hockey are still available. Fans may purchase a football season ticket for the final four home games. A family pack for the rest of the season (two adult tickets, and three youth tickets) is available for $132. Maine hosts Delaware Saturday at 6 p.m.
A full season of Maine hockey is also available for $342 per seat.