The University of Maine men’s hockey team has begun its dry-land training as the Black Bears look to improve upon last season’s 16-15-4 campaign. Goaltending will be a top priority this season after both the workhorse goalie and backup graduated.
“I’m really excited about the season,” second-year Maine head coach Red Gendron said. “The players have come back in great shape.”
Maine was physically the third smallest team among the 59 Division I programs a year ago.
The Black Bears had 10 players who were 6-foot-1 or taller, while this year’s team has 14. There were six players who were 200 pounds or heavier, which rose this year to nine.
“We wanted to get bigger,” Gendron said.
Under NCAA guidelines, the players will be able to spend eight hours a week working with strength and conditioning coach Matt Murray.
They are also allowed to participate in “captain’s practices” on the ice without coaches or other staff members.
Beginning Sept. 15, the coaching staff will be allowed to work with the team two hours a week, which will be part of the eight-hour conditioning time frame. That will apply until Sunday, Oct. 5, when the season officially starts and coaches are allowed to work with the team 20 hours a week.
The Black Bears play an exhibition game Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. against the University of New Brunswick.
Maine returns 10 of its top 12 scorers, but starting goalie Martin Ouellette and backup Dan Sullivan have both graduated.
That leaves the goaltending in the hands of junior Matt Morris, who sat out last year after having hip surgery, and freshmen Nik Nugnes and Sean Romeo.
Gendron said Morris is healthy and ready to go.
Nugnes actually joined the program for the second semester and practiced with the team but didn’t play in any games, so he still has four years of eligibility remaining.
Morris played in six games his freshman year and had a 2-1 record, a 2.83 goals-against average and a .881 save percentage.
“I think our goaltending will be fine. We just don’t have any experience in net. We’re going to work hard to help these kids develop and gain experience,” Gendron said.
Maine native Ray Jean returns as the goalies coach and will tutor them.
In addition to Morris, Maine will also regain the services of junior center Stu Higgins, who missed the last 13 games of the season due to a knee injury suffered in an exhibition game against New Brunswick. He had surgery to repair the knee.
And winger Andrew Tegeler, who transferred from the University of Massachusetts, is eligible after having to sit out last season due to NCAA guidelines.
But right winger Ryan Lomberg, who would have been a junior, has been suspended for 1 ½ years by the school for his role in an April off-campus altercation and won’t return. He will play for Youngstown in the United States Hockey League. He was the team’s seventh-leading scorer last season with 11 goals and 7 assists in 34 games.
Maine has eight freshmen, including Nugnes and Romeo. Cedric Lacroix, Jack Musil, Nolan Vesey and Liam Pecararo are forwards and Malcolm Hayes and Mark Hamilton are defensemen.
The freshmen spent most of the month of August in Orono taking classes, working out together and getting to know the campus and community.
The Black Bears will be led by captain Devin Shore and defenseman Ben Hutton, who were second-team American Hockey Coaches Association/CCM All-Americans and first-team All-Hockey East selections. They were also selected to the New England Hockey Writers Association Division 1 All-Star team and Hutton was named the recipient of the Bob Monahan Award given to the top defenseman in New England.
Both are juniors.
Higgins and senior defenseman Jake Rutt of Scarborough are the assistant captains.
Maine opens the season on the road against Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks on Oct. 10 and 11, respectively, before beginning a stretch of six straight home games when it takes on defending NCAA champ Union on Oct. 17 and 18.