UMaine hockey first-year coach Ben Barr has gotten a verbal commitment from defenseman Liam Lesakowski to join the team. Credit: BDN file photo

First-year University of Maine head hockey coach Ben Barr took part in his first Hockey East media day on Wednesday and said he likes what he has seen from his players as they prepare for a 4:30 p.m. Saturday exhibition game against ECAC contender Quinnipiac at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

UMaine will open its season at the University of Nebraska Omaha on Oct 8-9.

The Black Bears, picked 10th among 11 teams in the Hockey East coaches’ preseason poll,  were 3-11-2 during an abbreviated campaign caused by the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The team had to play all of its regular season games on the road due to state of Maine and university restrictions, and when it finally did get to host a game — a Hockey East playoff game — New Hampshire eliminated UMaine 7-2.

Barr was the associate head coach for the national champion University of Massachusetts Minutemen last season and replaced the late Red Gendron, who collapsed and died at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono on April 9.

Omaha, picked 5th among eight teams in the preseason National Collegiate Hockey Association media poll, was 14-11-1 last season and played in the NCAA Tournament where it was ousted by Minnesota 7-2 in the first round.

Barr said he is looking forward to seeing exactly what he has for a team in the Quinnipiac exhibition.

“We’ve just been playing against each other for a month. Some guys are going to perform way better than you might imagine and vice versa can be true as well,” Barr said during the Zoom conference.

“Obviously, Quinnipiac is a great team year in and year out so it will be a good testing ground for us to see what we have in our locker room and plan for that next weekend in Omaha,” Barr said.

Quinnipiac, based in Hamden, Connecticut, went 17-8-4 last season and lost to Minnesota State 4-3 in overtime in their first round NCAA Tournament game.

Barr said he has a hard-working hockey team with excellent attitudes.

“We don’t have 10 or 15 superstars. We’re going to have to be a team that has to have everybody play to their ability and to a really high standard every night. That’s going to be the way we have success or don’t have success,” Barr said.

“I can say that we have a lot of depth so there is going to be a lot of competition for playing time, which is good, especially for a new coach and a new staff,” the 39-year-old Barr added.

He called his players very motivated after last season.

“I think they are eager to show that what happened last year wasn’t necessarily the real Maine Black Bears,” he said. “Coach [Red] Gendron and his staff recruited phenomenal human beings.”

After serving as an assistant at Rensselaer Institute of Technology, Union, Providence, Western Michigan and UMass, Barr said a school like UMaine is “unique” to him because it has such a storied tradition with two NCAA championships, 11 Frozen Four appearances and 18 NCAA Tournament berths.

“Having all the coaches and players who were here before me is great. But the other side is we need to bring our program into the here and now a little more,” he said.

Center and graduate student Jack Quinlivan, senior left wings Adam Dawe and Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup and defenseman Simon Butala will be the team captains, Barr said.

“They are really good human beings and having them has been great for me in helping me understand each individual player. It’s really nice having a group like that helping me with my transition,” Barr said.

Barr and his Black Bears will have seven of their home games carried on WVII-Channel 7 ABC and WFVX, Fox 22 in Bangor along with WPXT Channel 51 in Portland.

The games will all start at 7:30 p.m. and will be played on Friday nights except the last one, which will be a Saturday night game against Boston University.

The games will be against Sacred Heart on Oct. 22 (ABC 7/WPXT), Merrimack on Nov. 12 (ABC 7/WPXT), Union on Dec. 10 (Fox/WPXT), Alaska-Fairbanks on Jan. 7 (Fox/WPXT), Boston College on Jan. 28 (ABC/WPXT) and Boston University on March 4 (Fox/WPXT) and March 5 (ABC/WPXT).

The games will be replayed on tape delay on the following Monday at 12:30 p.m. on Fox 22.