Three teams that won or shared their conference’s regular season title and earned NCAA Tournament berths — including the tournament champions — highlight the list of non-conference opponents on the University of Maine’s men’s ice hockey schedule this coming season.
There will be 11 non-conference games to go with 24 Hockey East contests.
The non-conference games offer a mixture of three teams that were among the top 20 in the Pairwise Rankings prior to the NCAA Tournament, a ranking system that mimics the process used by the NCAA Tournament to select its at-large teams.
Four other teams were rated 31 or below among the 59 Division I teams.
It is a challenging schedule, UMaine head coach Ben Barr said. UMaine finished 7-22-4 during Barr’s first season and was tied for 51st in the Pairwise Rankings. UMaine finished last in Hockey East with a 5-17-2 record.
“Every game is going to be difficult,” Barr said. “We will have 15 new guys. It will take a while for them to blend in.”
The three teams that won or shared regular season championships are the University of Denver — which won the NCAA Division I title after sharing the National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular season championship with North Dakota — ECAC winner Quinnipiac University (Connecticut) and Atlantic Hockey Association champ American International College (Massachusetts).
Denver, Quinnipiac and AIC were ranked fourth, eighth and 20th among 59 Division I schools in the Pairwise Rankings, while New York schools Colgate and Canisius were 31st and 39th, respectively, and the United States Air Force Academy and Bentley (Massachusetts) were tied for 43rd.
Another opponent, Alaska-Anchorage, just resurrected its program after a two-year hiatus.
UMaine will open against Air Force in Colorado Springs in the annual Ice Breaker Tournament on Oct. 7 before traveling to Denver to take on the Pioneers the next night.
Denver concluded its season with a 31-9-1 record and beat UMass Lowell (3-2), Minnesota-Duluth (2-1), Michigan (3-2) and Minnesota State (5-1) in the NCAA Tournament to earn the school’s ninth national championship.
The Ice Breaker Tournament games are exempt, meaning they don’t count toward the 34 regular season games Division I teams are allowed to play.
Barr said the Ice Breaker Tournament will supply him and his staff with an “interesting measuring stick” to see where his team stands.
UMaine will host Quinnipiac on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 22-23.
Quinnpiac wound up 32-7-3 and beat St. Cloud State 5-4 in its first NCAA tourney game before losing to Michigan in the quarterfinals 7-4.
The Quinnipiac series will be intriguing because the Black Bears were thumped by the Bobcats 7-0 in an exhibition game last season.
“We will see how far we’ve come in a year,” Barr said.
UMaine will play single games against AIC and its fellow AHA members Canisius (16-16-3 last year) and Bentley (14-20-2).
UMaine will visit Bentley on Saturday, Oct. 15, and will host AIC on Saturday, Nov. 26, and Canisius on Saturday, Dec. 10.
AIC finished at 22-13-3 and Michigan ousted AIC 5-3 in its first round game.
The Black Bears also have a pair of two-game non-conference series.
They will travel to play ECAC team Colgate University on Dec. 30-31 and will face Alaska-Anchorage at home on Jan. 6-7.
Colgate was 18-18-4 last season and lost to Quinnipiac in the ECAC semifinals.
Alaska-Anchorage, which is now a Division I independent, was 4-25-7 during the 2019-20 season when it was in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Barr expects Hockey East to be “strong again” and said there was a lot of parity a year ago with several quality teams even though all three NCAA Tournament teams — Northeastern, UMass and UMass Lowell — lost their first-round games.
UMaine will host Northeastern University on Oct. 28-29 for its first Hockey East series.
UMaine will play UMass Lowell, Merrimack, Boston College and Boston University three times each and the other six Hockey East schools twice.
UMaine is also scheduled to play an exhibition game against the visiting University of Prince Edward Island on Oct. 1.
The league will have two new coaches as Boston College grad Greg Brown returns to lead the Eagles after replacing retired Hall of Fame coach Jerry York and Jay Pandolfo will return to Boston University, his alma mater, after Albie O’Connell got fired.
The single-elimination Hockey East Tournament begins March 8.