ORONO, Maine — Coach Red Gendron hopes to make some significant strides with his University of Maine men’s hockey team this season after an 11th-place finish in Hockey East a year ago.
The league’s coaches don’t think he will.
Instead, they feel the Black Bears will continue their downward spiral. They were picked to finish last in the 12-team league in the preseason poll released Tuesday at the Hockey East media day in Boston.
UMaine garnered just 30 points, two fewer than 11th-place UMass.
Boston University was the preseason choice to win the league, earning 10 of the 12 first-place votes and 130 points. The Terriers were followed by Hockey East tournament champion Northeastern and Notre Dame (108 each), UMass Lowell (105), Providence (98), Boston College (91), Connecticut (63), Vermont (57), Merrimack (53), New Hampshire (49), Massachusetts and UMaine.
Northeastern and UMass Lowell received the other first-place votes.
As usual, Gendron downplayed the poll.
“The game is played between the glass,” said the fourth-year UMaine coach.
He expects the league to be “fantastic.”
Hockey East placed six teams in the 16-team NCAA tournament a year ago, the most of any of the five leagues.
UMaine is coming off an 8-24-6 season that included a 5-15-2 mark in conference play. The eight wins were the fewest, excluding forfeits, since the 1982-83 team went 5-24-0.
UMaine was 14-22-3 in 2014-15 and 16-15-4 in Gendron’s first season.
The Black Bears will be inexperienced as 19 of the 28 players are freshmen or sophomores.
The Black Bears were ranked 55th among the 60 Division I teams in offense (two goals per game) and 50th in defense (3.39 goals allowed). They return only two of their top six-point producers from last season: Seniors Blaine Byron (eight goals, 16 assists) and Cam Brown (8 & 12).
UMaine returns five defensemen who played in at least 24 games and goalies Matt Morris and Rob McGovern.
UMaine will play three games in Portland this season.
Gendron hasn’t had much time to evaluate this year’s team because the coaches are allowed only two hours of practice with the team each week during the preseason under NCAA guidelines.
“So far, I like what I’ve seen,” said Gendron. “We’re just trying to progress and get better every day.”
He called his 10 first-year players terrific, and he feels the same way about his returnees.
Gendron will get a valuable evaluation opportunity on Sunday when the Black Bears host St. Francis Xavier University from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, for an exhibition game at 4 p.m.
The X-Men played in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship game last season, losing to Atlantic University Sport rival the University of New Brunswick 3-1.
“They’ve done a nice job,” said Gendron. “A lot of the teams in the Maritimes have outstanding programs.”
Because it is an exhibition game, teams can expand their rosters, so Gendron is going to use virtually every player available on his roster.
UMaine opens the regular season against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Oct. 7-8 at Alfond Arena.