Tim Doherty of the University of Maine positions himself in front of the net looking for a scoring opportunity in a recent game against Vermont at Alfond Arena in Orono. The Brown University transfer has posted six goals and six assists in his first season with the Black Bears. Credit: Peter Buehner

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s hockey team took some significant steps forward last year, and the players are looking to build upon that this season with a veteran team.

Not only did the Black Bears snap a 23-game road winless streak during the 2017-18 campaign, but they also finished the season with a winning record on the road at 9-8-1.

UMaine (18-16-4 overall, 10-11-3 HE) finished tied for fifth in the Hockey East standings after being picked to finish last in the preseason polls and swept New Hampshire in a first-round, best-of-three playoff series before dropping two, one-goal games to Providence in the quarterfinals.

With 11 of the top 12 scorers, all but one defensemen and all three goalies returning, the league’s coaches picked UMaine fifth in the preseason poll — the Black Bears’ highest ranking since they were selected fifth in 2012.

“I think we have the pieces to the puzzle this year to do some real damage,” said UMaine junior left wing Mitch Fossier, the team’s leading scorer last season with 12 goals and 22 assists. “We don’t pay too much attention to the outside noise, but we’re excited, for sure.”

Fossier, an alternate captain, pointed out that UMaine hasn’t had much turnover and is the most veteran roster in his three seasons.

UMaine began captain’s practices in September and were allowed to have four hours of practice per week with the coaches. The first official team practice comes Saturday, and the Black Bears host the University of Prince Edward Island on Monday at 6 p.m. in an exhibition game.

UMaine opens the regular season Oct. 12 and 13 at Alfond Arena against St. Lawrence.

“I think we’re better in every position this year. We have a lot more depth,” said senior defenseman and alternate captain Keith Muehlbauer.

Despite having momentum from last season and high expectations, the Black Bears must go out and prove themselves, he added.

Junior center Chase Pearson, a second-year co-captain, said one of the biggest developments has been in team chemistry.

“We’re a pretty tight-knit group this year. When you come together off the ice, it really translates to on the ice,” Pearson said.

There are only five newcomers this season, led by United States Hockey League second-team all-star forward Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup (26 goals, 17 assists for Fargo) and forward Adam Dawe (23 goals, 19 assists) for Sioux Falls.

Muehlbauer said the team’s execution level has been better during preseason compared to last year, and he believes the defense corps has the ability to be among the top-scoring units in the country. UMaine’s returning defensemen combined for 23 goals and 57 assists last winter.

The only defenseman who graduated was co-captain Mark Hamilton, who was limited to 25 games by injury.

“We also have some defense-minded guys, too,” Muehlbauer said.

Fossier said having a lot of veterans in the locker room makes things easier because they know how to play the systems.

“There is a sense of expectation and you have confidence. When you win, it’s not something you hope you can do, it’s something you expect to do. It’s a different attitude,” Fossier said.

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