March 8 was the last time a University of Maine team competed.
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic caused mass sports cancellations, including those of postseason games involving the UMaine men’s hockey and women’s basketball teams.
On Friday evening, the Black Bear women’s ice hockey team had the distinction of ending that lengthy hiatus when it played its Hockey East opener at Holy Cross.
Eighth-year coach Richard Reichenbach’s team is coming off an up-and-down season and a seventh-place finish in Hockey East. UMaine (15-14-8 overall, 9-11-7 HE) upset No. 2 seed Boston University in the quarterfinals and lost to eventual champ Northeastern in the semifinals.
It was the second time in three years the Black Bears reached the semifinals.
UMaine has lost school career points (129) and assists (66) leader Tereza Vanisova and goalie Carly Jackson, who ranks first in goaltending wins (45), goals-against average (2.15), save percentage (.923) and shutouts (10).
The team returns seven of its top nine scorers and all but one defensemen. Senior goalie Loryn Porter played in seven games a year ago and in 21 in her career.
“I think we can contend for a top-four finish and home ice in the playoffs,” said Reichenbach, whose team was picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches poll.
“We want to get to the championship game of Hockey East,” senior defenseman and captain Taylor Leech of Bowdoinham said.
Confidence in Porter abounds.
“She has been a fantastic goalie ever since she set foot on campus. She has progressed every year and this will be her year to show herself,” Leech said.
The Black Bears appear to have ample scoring punch. Leading the way is sophomore left wing Ida Kuoppala (19 goals, 14 assists), the team’s leading scorer last season. She was an All-Hockey East third-team and All-Rookie choice.
“She is a fantastic player,” Leech said.
Kuoppala is on a line with vastly improved junior center Ally Johnson (3&4) and freshman right wing Rahel Enzler, a Swiss National team player who had 55 goals and 71 assists for her Swiss club team the last two years.
The Nos. 3 and 4 scorers headline the other high-powered line. Speedy left wing Liga Miljone (10 & 18) and playmaking center Ali Beltz (7 & 20), both juniors, are joined on a line by hardworking senior Maddie Giordano (2 & 6).
Reichenbach said UMaine’s third line remains a big question mark. Bangor sophomore Morgan Trimper (1 & 5) is ready to take on a more prominent role centering junior 10-goal scorer Celine Tedenby and freshman Morgan Sadler.
Trimper’s twin sister Ally (1 & 0) has shown significant gains and is on the fourth line with freshmen Brooke Carriere and 5-foot-11 Katelyn Arman.
“I think we will have more scoring balance this season,” Reichenbach said.
The defense corps is led by junior Ida Press (7 & 10), senior captain Taylor Leech of Bowdoinham (2 & 12) and sophomore Ella MacLean (2 & 11). Sophomores Amalie Andersen (1 & 3) and Nicole Pateman (1 & 2) played valuable minutes and promising freshmen include Elise Morphy, Kennedy Little and Olivia King of Old Town.
Senior Daria Tereshkina (0 & 4) is still in her native Russia and hopes to return in December.
The offense should be bolstered by the power play, which returns players who scored 23 of the 26 power-play goals last season. UMaine ranked second in Hockey East with 19.7 percent efficiency with the advantage.
Kuoppala scored a team-high seven power-play goals, Press netted four and Miljone and Betz logged three apiece.
Porter will be backed up by freshmen Ann Larose and Jorden Mattison.
Reichenbach said the Black Bears have the necessary blend to be successful.
“Some years we’ve had too much finesse and other years we’ve had too much grit but this team has both,” he said.
UMaine also features good chemistry.
“This is a fantastic group of girls. I’m honored to be their captain,” said Leech, who is proud to have four Maine players on the roster.
“It’s something I’ll never take for granted,” she said.
She said the talented group of nine freshmen will contribute right away.