The University of Maine men’s hockey team overachieved this season.
The Black Bears finished fourth in Hockey East after being picked eighth in the preseason coaches poll. They were scheduled to host Connecticut in the quarterfinals, but the season was canceled because of the coronavirus.
UMaine’s strong finish enabled it to post their best records overall (18-11-5) and in the league (12-9-3) since the 2011-2012 campaign. That team earned the program’s last trip to the Hockey East semifinals and the NCAA Tournament.
Talent-wise, this team wasn’t among the top six in the league. But junior goaltender Jeremy Swayman, the team’s close bond, its excellent leadership and its resiliency enabled it to post a 13-7-5 record in games decided by two goals or less.
Swayman is one of three finalists for Hockey East Player of the Year and won the Walter Brown Award given to the best American-born college player in New England.
The Boston Bruins fourth-round draft choice posted the nation’s second-best save percentage (.939) and his 2.07 goals-against average was 15th. He won five games in which UMaine was outshot by at least 13 shots.
Swayman’s 1,099 saves led the nation and set a school record. He benefited from the play of his defense corps, which overcame its inexperience to significantly exceed expectations.
Talented University of Wisconsin transfer J.D. Greenway, a third-round draft choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was the only defenseman with more than 36 career games under his belt (46) entering the season.
Greenway (1 goal, 9 assists) and junior Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi (2 & 8), who played only six games last season due to injuries, led the defense corps in scoring.
Hard-nosed sophomore Simon Butala (1 & 4) was a valuable stay-at-home type and junior Cam Spicer (1 & 2) was dependable after playing in just four games during his injury-riddled sophomore year.
Skillful sophomore Jakub Sirota (1 & 8) continued his impressive growth and freshman Adrien Bisson (2 & 5) turned in consistently strong defensive showings.
Three other freshmen saw limited duty on defense in Levi Kleiboer (0 & 5 in 17 games), Perry Winfree and Dawson Bruneski. The experience they gained should accelerate their learning curves.
UMaine ranked 10th among the 60 Division I programs in scoring defense (2.21 GAA) and 11th on the penalty kill (86.1 percent).
Senior linemates Mitch Fossier (10 & 32) and Tim Doherty (14 & 23) and junior right wing Eduards Tralmaks (14 & 16) were the top point-producers.
Doherty has another year of eligibility but has said he intends to weigh his options. The classy Fossier’s 32 assists tied for third in the country and he concluded his impressive career with 128 career points, tying him with Ray Jacques for 30th all-time.
Tralmaks was on a line with Fossier and Doherty before he suffered a shoulder injury against UConn on Jan. 15 and senior Patrick Shea (6 & 4) moved up to that line. Tralmaks joined senior Ryan Smith (4 & 6) and freshman A.J. Drobot (4 & 5) on the third line.
The move was beneficial as it provided the Black Bears with more scoring balance.
Crafty Adam Dawe overcame a concussion-marred freshman season to have a noteworthy sophomore campaign (9 & 11) and sophomore linemate Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup had 9 & 9.
Freshman Ben Poisson (3 & 5) centered that line and was a solid, two-way player. He, like Drobot, was trusted to play in the final minute of a game while protecting a one-goal lead.
Poisson and Schmidt-Svejstrup went without a goal in their last 19 and 15 games, respectively, but should break out next season.
Niagara University transfer Sam Rennaker (5 & 3) gave the gritty and resourceful fourth line an offensive component to go with two juniors, physical center Jack Quinlivan (1 & 2) and right wing Kevin Hock (1 & 2).
Junior winger Emil Westerlund had 1 & 6 but appeared in just 18 games due to a lingering wrist injury.
Sophomore Edward Lindelow, freshman Brady Gaudette and junior Adrian Holesinsky saw limited playing time and freshman Remy Parker missed the season with an injury.
Two overtime road wins Jan. 24-25 over eventual league regular-season champion Boston College turned this team’s season around. The second-half surge could well have helped UMaine earn an NCAA Tournament berth if it had enjoyed a decent playoff run.
But the future is cloudy for the Black Bears. Seventh-year head coach Red Gendron, a finalist for Hockey East coach of the year, in July enters the final year of his contract.
Swayman was expected Tuesday to sign with the Bruins, leaving UMaine with an untested goaltender. The candidates are incoming freshmen Victor Ostman and Connor Androlewicz and sophomore Matt Thiessen. Stephen Mundinger could return as a grad student.
The defense will be the team’s strength, but that unit must provide more than eight goals next season as offensive production is likely to be a major issue.
UMaine averaged only 2.62 goals per game, 37th in the country, and if Doherty doesn’t return, that will mean five of UMaine’s top 10 forwards will be gone.
Tralmaks, Dawe and Schmidt-Svejstrup must continue to elevate their games. Drobot, Poisson and a healthy Westerlund will need to be more prolific and UMaine will need some instant production from incoming freshmen like Donovan Houle-Villeneuve (46 games, 31 & 36 in the Saskatechwan Junior Hockey League), Lynden Breen (45 games, 18 & 30 in United States Hockey League), Brad Morrissey (30 games, 8 & 11 in USHL) and Tristan Poissant (48 games, 13 & 25 in North American Hockey League).
The 6-foot-4 Zach Aughe (50 games, 5 & 13 in NAHL) will supply some size up front and Kabore Dunn (55 games, 10 & 20 in Alberta Junior Hockey League) gives them a point-producing defenseman.