Brady Keeper of the University of Maine fires the puck up the ice during a recent game at Alfond Arena in Orono. The freshman from Manitoba has been a productive player at both ends of the ice for the Black Bears. Credit: Peter Buehner

BOSTON — University of Maine men’s hockey coach Red Gendron has never put much stock in preseason polls.

But since the end of last season, the Black Bears’ sixth-year coach has been optimistic about the prospects for the 2018-2019 team, and the league’s coaches agree with him.

UMaine was picked to finish fifth in the coaches’ Hockey East preseason poll that was released Monday. It was the highest position for the Black Bears since they were tabbed to finish fifth prior to the 2012-13 season.

UMaine wasn’t picked to finish higher than ninth in the five previous polls.

They were ranked tied for last (10th) in the 2017-18 poll but wound up exceeding expectations, finishing in a tie with the University of Connecticut for fifth place. UMaine was seeded sixth due to the tiebreaker.

UMaine wound up 18-16-4 overall, 10-11-3 in Hockey East and swept the University of New Hampshire in their Hockey East first-round series before being swept by Providence College in the quarterfinals.

Boston College was selected as the preseason favorite in the conference. The Eagles had five first-place votes and 93 points. Providence was second with four first-place votes and 92 points, followed by Boston University (84 points) and Northeastern (66 points), each of which received a first-place vote.

UMaine accrued 66 points and was followed by Massachusetts (56 points), UMass Lowell (52), Connecticut (41), New Hampshire (26), Vermont (19) and Merrimack (15).

“I don’t care about the polls. Games are played inside the glass. But I’m very excited about our team,” Gendron said. “Nolan Vesey is the only one of the top 10 scorers who graduated. With the exception of Mark Hamilton, all of our defensemen are back as are all three of our goalies.

“We have horses and this is probably the oldest team we’ve had in terms of experience. They have played a lot of games,” Gendron said.

UMaine returns 11 of its top 12 point-getters from a year ago and boasts six defensemen who appeared in at least 26 games. Goaltenders Jeremy Swayman, Rob McGovern and Stephen Mundinger are also back.

UMaine has 12 players with at least 55 career games under their belts.

“Everybody is determined to compete for a championship,” Gendron said. “The key thing for us will be to stay hungry and stay humble. People can say we’re going to have a good team, but we have to stick with the process and do the work.”

The league has three new head coaches. Albie O’Connell returns to his alma mater as the head man at Boston University as does Mike Souza at New Hampshire. Scott Borek, formerly the head coach at Division III Colby College in Waterville, is the new coach at Merrimack.

David Quinn left BU to become the head coach of the NHL’s New York Rangers. Dick Umile retired after 28 seasons behind the UNH bench, and Mark Dennehy was fired at Merrimack and is now the head coach of the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers.

The league has adopted an eight-team playoff format for the first time since 2012-13, eliminating the first round and excluding the bottom three finishers.

Under NCAA rules, UMaine may hold its first official full practice Saturday, though NCAA Division I teams have been allowed to have four hours of practice with the coaches each week leading up to that day.

UMaine plays a home exhibition game against the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers on Monday at 6 p.m. then opens the regular season Oct. 12-13 at the Alfond Arena against St. Lawrence. Hockey East play begins Oct. 26 at UConn in Storrs.

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