University of Maine men's ice hockey coach Ben Barr after practice on Sept. 21, 2022, at Alfond Arena. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

University of Maine men’s hockey coach Ben Barr was pleased with his team’s performance in its gritty 1-0 exhibition win over a veteran University of Prince Edward Island on Saturday night at the Alfond Arena.

Barr and his Black Bears are setting their sights on their season-opener at 9 p.m. EST Friday at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The game will be part of the annual Ice Breaker Tournament.

UMaine will then travel to play defending national champion Denver on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Barr said the game against the University of Prince Edward Island gave them a valuable tune-up and could be the most physical team they play all season.

“They were a heavy, hard team, and it was good for our guys to go through that. It will serve us well down the road,” Barr said. “We had pushback and that was good to see, especially with so many new guys out there. Our guys didn’t back down from the physicality and aggressiveness in the game. They battled. We have a competitive team.”

He said he was impressed by his team’s work ethic.

“The work ethic was great. There wasn’t one guy out there who wasn’t working,” the second-year coach said.

He said they will have to improve their puck management because “we had a lot of turnovers in bad areas.”

Ten of UMaine’s 11 freshmen and four of its five transfers played on Saturday night. Three freshmen produced the only goal, as defenseman Luke Antonacci pounced on the rebound of a shot by right winger Reid Pabich and passed across to center Killian Kiecker-Olson, who directed it into the net from point-blank range.

Clarkson University transfer Jacob Mucitelli got the start in goal and stopped all 15 shots he faced before junior Victor Ostman came on midway through the second period and saved all 17 shots he saw.

“Our goaltenders played well. That was good to see,” Barr said.

Ostman said the UPEI game was “a different type of game than we’re used to, but we managed it well. It was really fun to get a win.

Ostman thought the 14 new players gave a good account of themselves. He noted that they battled hard and didn’t have many “hiccups systematically.”  He said you would have expected more mistakes from that many new guys playing in their first games.

There was a surprisingly large turnout for an exhibition game, and Mucitelli and Kiecker-Olson said the crowd was a valuable ally.

“It was awesome. The crowd gave us a lift the whole game,” said Kiecker-Olson. “It was a lot of fun.”

“The atmosphere was unreal,” said Mucitelli. “It was pretty cool.”

 Barr said one area they have improved dramatically over last year’s 7-22-4 team is its depth.

“We are a deep team. We don’t have any superstars, which is fine. But we have a lot of very good players,” Barr said.

UPEI coach Forbes MacPherson and Panthers center Troy Lajeuenesse, who had just three days on the ice over the past 10 days due to Hurricane Fiona, said they see a promising future for UMaine.

“They’re a strong team. They’re pretty fast, and they must be well coached,” said Lajuenesse. “That was a real good game. It was a good pace.”

“[Barr] has done a great job. With all the young players, there will be a lot of coaching and learning this year. The future is bright,” MacPherson said.

UMaine was without three forwards for the game: University of Alaska transfer Didrik Henbrant, senior Grant Hebert and junior Donavan Houle.

Houle was UMaine’s second-leading scorer last year with 10 goals and 9 assists, and Hebert was tied for third with 7 goals and 9 assists.

They were sidelined with minor injuries.

“They all could have played if we needed them to but it didn’t make sense to play them in an exhibition game,” said Barr who expects them to be available this coming weekend.

In looking ahead to the game with Air Force, Barr said “we’re going to have to be better than we were on Saturday to beat Air Force.”