The University of Maine men’s hockey team finished last in Hockey East a year ago and according to two preseason polls, that’s where the Black Bears will wind up again this season.
The media and coaches’ polls both put the Black Bears in the cellar.
UMaine was 5-17-2 in the league last year, 7-22-4 overall. The Black Bears were jettisoned from the first round of the Hockey East playoffs by Merrimack 6-2.
UMaine second-year head coach Ben Barr had no qualms about being picked last.
“There is no reason to pick us higher than that. We have to prove to people we don’t belong there,” said Barr, who has 16 newcomers, including three transfers. “We believe we can be much better than that and that’s all that matters.”
UMaine was ninth in the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season with a 3-10-2 league mark, 3-11-2 overall. It played all of its regular season games on the road due to COVID-19 restrictions before hosting and losing to New Hampshire in the first round of the playoffs 7-2.
Since the last time UMaine reached the Hockey East semifinals and the NCAA Tournament, which was the 2011-12 season, the Black Bears have averaged an eighth-place finish in the league.
“We haven’t been consistently competitive the past two years. We have had some good nights. But good teams play the same way every night,” Barr said.
Virtually the entire team worked out together for six weeks in Orono this summer and UMaine returns its top six scorers off last year’s team.
“The players feel they are all on the same page and have a better understanding of what we are trying to do now. Now we have to go out and do it,” Barr said.
He feels they are much further ahead than they were at this time last season because the returnees have a year under their belt with the coaching staff.
Barr believes Hockey East will be strong and deep this season.
“A few years back, you had a top half and a bottom half of the league. It’s not like that any more,” he said. “The league’s depth is much higher than it has ever been since I’ve been coaching. Nobody is going backwards.”
Barr was an assistant at several schools before coming to UMaine, including Hockey East schools Providence and UMass.
In the coaches poll, Northeastern (105 points, 7 first-place votes) was the favorite followed by Boston University (94, 1), Massachusetts (93, 3), Providence (76), Boston College (71) and UMass Lowell (71), who were tied for fifth; UConn (70), Merrimack (44), New Hampshire (37), Vermont (29) and UMaine (26).
In the media poll, it was Northeastern (117, 7), Massachusetts (96, 3), Providence (87), UConnn (86), BU (85, 1), UMass Lowell (73), Boston College (63), Merrimack (51), Vermont (24), UNH (23) and UMaine (21).
There was also a coaches’ poll for the Hockey East women and it had the UMaine team seventh among 10 teams, even though it has reached the Hockey East semifinals the past three seasons.
The women’s coaches poll has Northeastern again on top (90, 9) followed by Vermont (79, 1), Boston College (76), Providence (61), BU (59), UConn (53), UMaine (39), UNH (38), Merrimack (26) and Holy Cross (19).
Molly Engstrom is in her first season as the head coach of the UMaine women.