Without Jeremy Swayman, chosen the nation’s best goalie last season, the University of Maine men’s hockey team will return to the bottom tier of Hockey East this season.
That’s the evaluation of the league’s coaches in their preseason poll released on Friday. The Black Bears were picked to finish ninth in the 11-team league after placing fourth last season.
It was UMaine’s best finish since it wound up fourth during 2011-2012, the last season UMaine reached the Hockey East semifinals and the NCAA Tournament.
However, the playoffs were canceled because of COVID-19.
The UMaine women’s team was chosen to finish seventh among 10 teams in Hockey East.
That is where the Black Bears finished last season, but they upset second seed Boston University in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Northeastern in the semis.
If the UMaine men wind up ninth, they would miss the playoffs under the eight-team format.
Defending Hockey East regular-season champion Boston College, with 12 National Hockey League draft choices on its roster, was picked to repeat as the winner.
Boston College earned 95 points and eight of the 11 first-place votes and Massachusetts (87 points, 2 first-place votes) was picked to match last year’s second-place finish. They were followed by Providence (77), UMass Lowell (71, 1), Northeastern (68), Boston University (55), Connecticut (48), New Hampshire (44), UMaine (27), Merrimack (23) and Vermont (10).
Swayman won the Mike Richter Award given to the nation’s top goalie after he posted a 2.07 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage in 34 games.
The Hockey East Player of the Year and All-American decided to pass up his senior year and sign with the Boston Bruins, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2017.
That leaves the Black Bears (18-11-5, 12-9-3 in Hockey East last winter) with an inexperienced netminder this season.
Vancouver draft pick Matthew Thiessen appeared in one game as a freshman and will be battling freshmen Victor Ostman and Connor Androlewicz for the starting job.
The entire defense corps is back after limiting opponents to 2.21 goals per game, 10th best among 60 Division I teams.
Seniors J.D. Greenway, Cam Spicer and Veli-Matti Tiuaniemi, juniors Jakub Sirota and Simon Butala and sophomores Adrien Bisson and Levi Kleiboer all played in at least 29 of 34 games last winter.
The defense will be bolstered by highly touted freshman Kabore Dunn from British Columbia.
Scoring will be another question mark as leading scorer and All-HE second teamer Mitch Fossier (10 goals, 32 assists) graduated and No. 2 point-producer Tim Doherty (14 & 23) transferred to Penn State. Patrick Shea and Ryan Smith, who tied for sixth in scoring with 10 points each, also graduated.
Senior Eduards Tralmaks (14 & 16) and juniors Adam Dawe (9 & 11) and Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup (9 & 9) are the top returning scorers. UMaine looks for more production from A.J. Drobot and Ben Poission, who had solid freshman campaigns.
In the women’s poll, Northeastern was selected to make it three consecutive regular-season championships by receiving 90 points and nine first-place votes. The Huskies return four first-team All-HE choices.
Boston University, which received 82 points and the other first-place vote, is expected to finish second again followed by Boston College (71), UConn (64), Providence (56), New Hampshire (52), UMaine (41), Vermont (39), Merrimack (24) and Holy Cross (21).
UMaine graduated dynamic all-time leading scorer Tereza Vanisova (63 goals, 66 assists in 129 games) and workhorse goalie Carly Jackson, who played in 122 career games and posted an impressive 1.90 GAA and .934 save percentage last season.
Senior Loryn Porter has appeared in 21 career games and freshmen Jorden Mattison and Anna Larose will compete with her for the job.
UMaine (15-14-8, 9-11-7) did return five of its top six scorers including All-Hockey East third-teamer and Rookie Team pick Ida Kuoppala, the team’s leading scorer (19 & 14).
The sophomore will be complemented by juniors Liga Miljone (10 & 18), Ali Beltz (7 & 20), Ida Press (7 & 10) and Celine Tedenby (10 & 5).
Press heads up a veteran defense corps that also includes seniors Taylor Leech and Daria Tereshkina and sophomores Ella MacLean and Amalie Andersen.