UMaine picked to finish fourth in Hockey East coaches poll

Posted Sept. 27, 2011, at 1:15 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 27, 2011, at 9:54 p.m.

The University of Maine men’s hockey team was picked to finish fourth in Hockey East by the league’s coaches during the Hockey East media day on Tuesday.

Boston College was picked to win the title, amassing seven first-place votes and 88 points.

Boston University was second with the other three first-place votes and 83 points.

New Hampshire was third with 72 points followed by Maine (64), Merrimack (61), Vermont (44), UMass (42), Northeastern (33), UMass Lowell (27) and Providence College (26).

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I figured we would be picked in that range. I don’t put too much stock in it.”

Maine lost three of its top five scorers off last year’s team, which went 17-12-7 overall and 14-8-5 in Hockey East. Maine wound up fifth and was swept out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals by Merrimack College.

Former Hobey Baker Award finalist Gustav Nyquist (18 goals, 33 assists) was Maine’s leading scorer but he decided to sign with the Detroit Red Wings and pass up his senior year.

“I think it’s a good position for us,” said senior left wing Theo Andersson. “Since we’re not ranked number one, there isn’t much pressure. We should be up there (among the top four). We have good team.”

Senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill said it was nice to hear that the coaches think Maine is going to be a top-four finisher.

“We know we have a good team. We know we’re going to work hard every night. … In the past, I think we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves (thinking about the polls). It’s basically hearsay and means nothing. We just need to worry about ourselves and playing games,” O’Neill added.

Junior center turned defenseman Matt Mangene was pleased to hear about the ranking.

“I think we’re definitely going to have a strong team this year and we’re going to show that we’re a strong team,” he said.

Sophomore goalie Martin Ouellette thinks “we can do even better than fourth. We have a good group of guys and we’re going to work hard to get those big wins.”

Junior left wing Adam Shemansky said he is comfortable with his team’s roster.

“We’re going to be a hardworking team with a defense-first (mentality). I’m confident coming into the season,” he said.

Ouellette and Dan Sullivan underwent baptism under fire as freshmen goaltenders last year and they had their ups and downs.

Whitehead and Mangene said they expect the two goalies to show dramatic improvement.

“They are in much better shape than they were at this time last year,” said Whitehead, who also noted they benefited from gaining experience.

He said he felt the goalies were under a lot of pressure last year because there were high expectations for the team and “they didn’t want to screw it up. They were nervous.”

Maine was picked to finish second in the preseason poll a year ago.

“It’s unbelievable how much they’ve progressed,” said Mangene.

Maine has strung together two winning seasons after two losing seasons. The Bears went 19-17-3 two years ago (13-12-2 in Hockey East). But they have gone four years without making the NCAA Tournament after going nine straight seasons making it.

“We’ve had a couple of winning seasons but not the winning seasons we wanted,” said Whitehead. “We want to make the (NCAA) tournament.”

Maine opens the season Sunday with a 4 p.m. exhibition game against New Brunswick at Alfond Arena in Orono. The Bears kick off the regular season Oct. 7 when they host Merrimack in a rematch of the 2011 Hockey East quarterfinals.

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