Statistics can be misleading, but they can also be revealing.
When looking at the struggling University of Maine men’s hockey program, certain numbers resonate.
For example, there is UMaine’s 11-38-4 record in its last 53 games against Hockey East opponents.
Or there is the 0-12-4 road record last season that left the Black Bears as the only Division I program that did not win a single road game. UMaine is winless in its last 22 road games (0-18-4) dating back to a 5-4 win at Massachusetts on Jan. 30, 2016.
UMaine finished 52nd among 60 teams last season in goals-against average (3.47) after ranking 50th in 2015-2016 (3.39) and 51st in 2014-2015 (3.26).
The Black Bears have endured three consecutive 20-loss seasons, going 33-67-13 in that span including 11-21-4 a year ago. They haven’t made it to the Hockey East semifinals since 2011-2012. They have missed the NCAA tournament nine of the last 10 years after a string of nine consecutive trips.
It is critical for fifth-year head coach Red Gendron’s team to show some noteworthy progress this season because he is in penultimate year of his contract. Another poor season may force athletic director Karlton Creech to decide whether to bring Gendron back or let him go and pay a buyout of $209,100.08, one year’s salary.
But Gendron and his players adhere to the theme echoed in the comeback hit by The Monkees in 1986: “That was then, this is now.”
UMaine was picked to finish last and tied for last, respectively, in the two preseason polls but the UMaine coach is confident that will not be the case.
“It’s simple. We have more depth at every position. We have several outstanding pieces to the puzzle. It’s about how we put it together and how we adhere to the process of getting better every single day,” said Gendron.
UMaine will be one of the youngest teams in the country with 20 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. The only Hockey East team with more is UMass (21).
This season’s sophomores scored 36 goals last winter, second most in Hockey East behind Boston University.
And players usually achieve the most significant improvement between their freshman and sophomore years after adapting to college life and Division I hockey.
Headlining that class were center Chase Pearson, UMaine’s fourth-leading scorer with 14 goals and eight assists, along with left wing Mitch Fossier (8 & 8), left wing/center Patrick Shea (5 & 11) and defenseman Patrick Holway (4 & 9).
Pearson has been chosen as a captain, which is rare for a sophomore. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Detroit Red Wings draft pick (fifth round) is a power forward with a scoring touch who plays all three zones. He improved steadily.
Fossier scored five goals in his first three games but injuries hampered his development. He is healthy again and should be able to become a consistent point-producer.
Shea (5 & 11), a seventh-round pick of Florida, is quick and tenacious and should also be able to improve his production. Holway, a Red Wings sixth-round pick, has an NHL-caliber shot and showed dramatic improvement.
The Black Bears must replace leading scorers Blaine Byron (18 & 23) and Cam Brown (4 & 35). One of the players who will be asked to fill the void is senior left winger Nolan Vesey (13 & 10), the team’s No. 3 scorer last season.
“I’m looking to have a big year offensively. I want to be a catalyst in that department,” said Vesey, a sixth-round draft choice of Toronto.
“That makes for a lot of competition in practice. Guys will be pushing to get into the lineup,” he said of the improved depth.
Speedy junior right wing Brendan Robbins (6 & 13) had an eight-point bump from his freshman season.
Senior Cedric Lacroix (5 & 5), junior Danny Perez (3 & 1) and sophomore Peter Housakos (1 & 1) provided UMaine with a grinding, hard-hitting line in the 3-1 exhibition win over Acadia University on Sunday. They are capable of wearing down opponents with their physicality. Lacroix is also a valuable penalty-killer.
Sophomore Brown University transfer Tim Doherty was impressive against Acadia, notching a goal and an assist. He should help up front as will freshmen Eduards Tralmaks, the Most Valuable Player in the United States Hockey League playoffs with his record-tying 10 goals, and Emil Westerlund, a 28-goal scorer in Sweden’s SuperElit League.
Another freshman, Adrian Holesinsky from Slovakia, is crafty and could make an immediate impact. Sophomore Ryan Smith (4 & 6 last year), junior Malcolm Hayes (0 & 1), Quinnipiac transfer Canon Pieper, sophomore Jake Pappalardo and freshmen Jack Quinlivan and Kevin Hock will also be in the mix up front. Pappalardo appeared in 18 games last season.
There should be a noticeable upgrade on defense and in goal.
Junior Rob Michel (6 & 9) is developing into an elite defenseman and senior captain Mark Hamilton (2 & 10), was one of the nation’s top shot-blockers with 90. Holway showed he can be effective at both ends.
Juniors Keith Muehlbauer (0 & 2) and Sam Becker (0 & 4) have plenty of experience, UMaine also has three potentially impactful freshman blueliners in Brady Keeper, the Most Valuable Player and top defenseman in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, along with Swede Alexis Binner and Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi from Finland.
All three freshmen have an offensive component to their game. Another first-year player, Cameron Spicer, and sophomore Oliver Herner from Hungary also could also chip in.
UMaine’s defense corps, including departed Eric Schurhamer, produced 18 goals and 44 assists last season and this group should easily eclipse that. They also have more mobility.
In goal, the addition of impressive freshman Jeremy Swayman, a fourth-round pick of the Boston Bruins, and the continued development of junior Rob McGovern (9-15-3, 2.99 GAA, .909 save percentage) could supply the Black Bears with the consistent goaltending they’ve been missing since the graduation of Martin Ouellette after the 2012-2013 season. Sophomore Stephen Mundinger has also improved.
Another aspect UMaine has to improve is its discipline. The Bears averaged 13.9 penalty minutes per game last season.
UMaine opens the season by hosting the University of Connecticut on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m.