Ben Barr is introduced as the new men's ice hockey head coach at the University of Maine on May 14, 2021. Credit: Ronnie Gillis / UMaine Athletics

Ben Barr’s first year as a head coach is in the books.

He led the University of Maine’s hockey team to a 7-22-4 campaign that ended Wednesday with a first-round exit from the Hockey East playoffs as No. 6 Merrimack College eliminated the 11th-seeded Black Bears. UMaine was 5-17-2 in Hockey East and finished last.

Barr, who won an NCAA title as an assistant at the University of Massachusetts a year ago, said the season was “a real learning experience.”

“I knew some of the players and knew where the program was in the big picture but I didn’t know the ins and outs and how Maine hockey works,” he said. “I learned a lot about the great things that go with UMaine hockey and about the things we need to change.”

In his talk to his players right after the Merrimack game, he explained to them that there were times they didn’t get the wins they deserved. But they got the ultimate result, saying the offseason training regimen was substandard and some players were not in the proper shape.

“There were a lot of guys who were physically unable to compete every single shift, every single night,” he said. “That’s what wins and loses hockey games, especially if you aren’t as talented as the other team.”

It is going to lead to many changes. Barr and his coaching staff are conducting player evaluations and he is having one-on-one conversations with players about their futures. The Black Bears will be bringing in at least 12 new players and likely several more, the coach said.

All but three UMaine players, winger Keenan Suthers, center and captain Jack Quinlivan, and defenseman Cam Spicer, have eligibility remaining. There are six other seniors or graduate students who may or may not return.

Despite the team’s record, Barr said he will always have a fondness for this team and its resiliency. UMaine had to play all of its regular season games on the road a year ago due to COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the state and school.

That was after head coach Red Gendron collapsed and died while playing golf at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono on April 9. Barr was named the new coach in May and said his players “came a long way as a team.”

“I give the team leaders, like Jack Quinlivan, and all of the players a lot of credit. They kept playing hard and playing for each other,” Barr said. “They are really good kids.”

Due to departures and injuries, UMaine finished the season with just 19 healthy skaters including senior winger Edward Lindelow, who had to shift to defense with only five healthy defensemen.

Barr will rely on a top line of sophomores Lynden Breen and Donavan Houle along with junior Ben Poisson, freshman winger Nolan Renwick and freshman Hockey East All-Rookie team defenseman David Breazeale to serve as the building blocks and leaders for next season.

He said all incoming players “will add something we will be able to use to make us better” including “puck-moving defensemen who can skate” and general depth in the program.

“We need to have competition [for playing time],” he said. “That’s something we didn’t have this year.”

UMaine was competitive and had a memorable 8-1 Seniors Night win over Boston University last Saturday night. The Black Bears also played many teams close, with 21 of their 33 games decided by two goals or less.

The players will be off next week for school vacation but Barr and his staff will begin preparing them for next season with a training regimen that will be implemented when they return.