Last season, Maine ranked seventh in the country in team offense and featured since-departed stars Spencer Abbott, Bryan Flynn, Matt Mangene and, on the blue line, Will O’Neill. It’s not as though the cupboard has been left bare, but don’t expect another top-10 offense.
“Like coaches often say, we have to replace those elite players with a group effort,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead says. “That’s very true for us.
“We do have Joey Diamond back. He was the top goal-scorer in the league. And Mark Anthoine was tied for the lead in power-play goals in the country. So we have a couple of guys that have proven they can score at this level consistently.
“Other than that, we’re going to rely on some upperclassmen to expand their roles. Who would have guessed Matt Mangene would have become a big point producer last year, but he did. So we’re hoping some guys emerge like that.
“Then we do have a large freshmen class and I think it’s our best class since the [Gustav] Nyquist, Flynn, Abbott, and O’Neill class four years ago. These guys are going to need to contribute right away.”
The impact of the offensive attrition extends also to the power play, where Maine finished tops in Hockey East and second in the country.
“It was three years in a row that it was really strong, but we’ve just lost too many of those guys,” Whitehead says. “I don’t expect us to be clicking at a real high percentage this year.
“That can change as the year goes on, but it will be more of a work in progress.”
On the blue line, the departures of O’Neill and Ryan Hegarty leave a returning nucleus of seniors Nick Pryor, Mike Cornell and Mark Nemec along with junior Brice O’Connor. Freshman Ben Hutton should make an immediate impact.
“Hegarty was our top defensive defensemen and O’Neill our top offensive defensemen, but we’ve got guys that we feel are ready to step into those roles,” Whitehead says. “Nick Pryor for sure is a great offensive defenseman. Mike Cornell and Mark Nemec are outstanding defensive defensemen who have completed their games from an offensive perspective. Brice O’Connor emerged for us in the second half last year.”
The goaltending improved greatly last year and could take yet another step forward as Dan Sullivan enters his junior year.
“It’s a great feeling to have really solid goaltending,” Whitehead says. “We’re very proud of what Dan did last year. This is the best we’ve felt from a goaltending perspective since we lost Ben Bishop.
“We’re going to need it because we’re not going to be as offensively potent as we’ve been the last couple of years. We’re hoping to win some games 2-1 and 3-2, as opposed to the 5-4 nailbiters that we had last year. We’re going to rely on our defense more than we have in the past.
“[A few years ago] we led the country in penalty kill. We’ve been there; we’ve done that. I can’t wait to see how we embrace that new identity this year and run with it.”
About the Black Bears
2011-12 overall record: 24-13-1
2011-12 Hockey East record: 17-9-1 (fourth)
2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: fifth; Dave: fourth
Key losses: F Spencer Abbott, F Bryan Flynn, F/D Matt Mangene, D Will O’Neill
Players to watch: F Joey Diamond, G Dan Sullivan, D Nick Pryor
Impact rookies: F Devin Shore, D Ben Hutton
Why the Black Bears will finish higher than predicted: The strong incoming freshman class will contribute right away and a stronger defensive presence makes up for the diminished offense.
Why the Black Bears will finish lower than predicted: After years of relying on a juggernaut power play and a strong top line, the Black Bears fail to make up for deficits there with a more defensive posture.