The University of Maine men’s ice hockey team has been selected second in the 2010 Hockey East Men’s Preseason Poll released Wednesday at Hockey East Media Day at the TD Garden in Boston.
The Black Bears, who return 11 of their top 12 scorers and their entire defense corps, received one first-place vote and 80 points overall in the coaches poll.
Boston College, the defending national champion, received nine first-place votes and 90 overall points in the poll. Maine fell to the Eagles in overtime in the 2010 Hockey East Championship game, 7-6. Maine followed Boston College in the poll.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said he “wasn’t surprised” to be picked second.
“We’re pleased to be there. It’s nice to earn some respect based on our playoff run last year. But it doesn’t mean a lot right now,” said Whitehead, who is beginning his 10th season behind the bench.
“I think we can challenge BC for the league title. We’re excited to get after it this weekend,” added Whitehead.
New Hampshire was third in the poll with 76 points followed by Boston University (59) and Northeastern with 54. Vermont was sixth with 53, followed by Merrimack (48), UMass Lowell (33), Massachusetts (26) and Providence (21).
Maine finished tied for third in the 2010 Hockey East regular season standings. The Black Bears defeated UMass Lowell in the quarterfinals and Boston University in the semifinals before falling to Boston College in the Hockey East Championship game.
Maine returns 20 lettermen and 90.5 percent of its offense. Among the returnees are junior right wing and assistant captain Gustav Nyquist, who was named to the Hobey Hat Trick last season. He scored 19 goals and added 42 assists to lead the nation in scoring with 61 points.
Other top scorers include junior left wing Brian Flynn, who chipped in with 19 goals and 28 assists, while senior captain and center Tanner House tallied 18 goals and 21 assists.
Defensemen Jeff Dimmen and Will O’Neill return to anchor the blueline. O’Neill tallied eight goals and 23 assists, while Dimmen, an assistant captain, had 12 goals and 18 assists. The 12 goals were one shy of tying the school record for goals in a season by a defenseman.
Maine hasn’t won the Hockey East regular season championship since it shared the crown with Boston University in the 1994-95 season.
“That’s something we’ve talked about with our team,” said Whitehead. “With all the great teams we’ve had since 1995, we’ve never won a regular season title. That is certainly one of our objectives.
“But it gets tougher (to accomplish) every year,” Whitehead said.
“Hockey East is the best league in the country,” said Nyquist who also said the Black Bears are determined to prove last year’s playoff run wasn’t a fluke.
Hockey East has produced the last three NCAA champions as BC sandwiched titles in 2008 and 2010 around one by Boston University in 2009.
Nyquist and Whitehead feel Boston College deserves to be picked to win the league championship.
“It’s going to be a big challenge to beat them,” said Nyquist.
“They bring back most of their team including their goalie (John Muse), who has already won two national championships,” said Whitehead. “They have to be the favorite.”
Like Whitehead, Nyquist is excited about the season and expects the team to have more scoring depth than a year ago.
“All four lines will be able to score,” said Nyquist.
“We’re going to be an exciting team to watch,” said Whitehead. “We’ve got to focus on team defense. We have to protect our young goalies. That is our top priority. We’ll get our share of goals.”
The Black Bears host Acadia in an exhibition on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 4 p.m. at Alfond Arena. Maine will drop the puck on the 2010-2011 regular season on Friday, Oct. 8 when it opens with a Hockey East game against UMass Lowell. The Black Bears will then host UConn the following night.