It takes mere seconds with new Maine coach Red Gendron to see that he’s fully aware of the cauldron of high expectations that comes along with his job.
Maine hockey isn’t an afterthought; it may not even do it justice to call it an obsession. Among the hardcore followers, Maine is a religion. The Black Bears are expected to compete not just within Hockey East but nationally. And not just compete but win.
“There’s absolutely no question,” Gendron says. “Shawn Walsh set the bar high and Tim Whitehead did a terrific job for a long, long period of time. We have to be about winning championships. There are no illusions.
“I’m beloved perhaps right now in Maine because we haven’t lost a game. I might be able to run for governor today, lose a game, and be impeached the following day.”
At least for now, Gendron sees that as a good thing.
“You embrace it,” he says. “Here’s the thing about Maine: The University of Maine hockey program belongs to the citizens of the state of Maine. They are that passionate about it.
“We have a proud tradition that we have to live up to. That’s the mission, end of story.”
A key to whether Gendron gets off on the right foot with those fans will be whether last year’s freshman class continues to progress. Four of the five top scorers last season were freshmen, led by Devin Shore and defenseman Ben Hutton.
“They need to take another step forward,” Gendron says. “That’s the bottom line. You talk about having a nice freshman year, but the numbers weren’t off the charts. So they have to get better for us to be successful.”
Gendron makes a good point. While Shore led the team in scoring with 26 points, neither he nor any of the returning players achieved double-digit goals. The prominence of the freshmen may have been every bit as much a testament to the overall offensive ineptitude of that team as the freshman class’s talent.
What isn’t in question is the experience in the net. Seniors Martin Ouellette and Dan Sullivan both have served as No. 1 goalies at Maine, with Ouellette seizing the job that had been Sullivan’s the year before.
“We have two senior goalies; it’s not just Marty,” Gendron says. “Both of them have experience in Hockey East and have been successful in Hockey East. So, on paper, our goaltending is pretty good. But you’ve got to stop the puck on Friday and Saturday night. End of story.”
As for those two, the defense, and the forwards, Gendron considers the slate clean. He wasn’t around to see what they did, or didn’t, accomplish last year.
“I’m still getting a feel for what they can do,” he says. “Does it matter what happened last year? No, it doesn’t.
“What matters is what are you doing now? That’s what matters and that’s what we’re all about, moving forward.
“I was at Yale last year and we won a national championship. If we start the season 0-10, people aren’t going to be too happy with me, are they? End of story.
“Same thing for the players. What they did last year is last year.”
About the Black Bears
2012-13 overall record: 11-19-8
2012-13 Hockey East record: 7-12-8 (seventh)
2013-14 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): Eighth
Key losses: F Joey Diamond, F Kyle Beattie, D Mike Cornell, D Mark Nemec
Players to watch: F Devin Shore, F Ryan Lomberg, F Steven Swavely, D Ben Hutton, G Martin Ouellette
Impact rookies: F Brady Campbell, F Brian Morgan
Why the Black Bears will finish higher than predicted: Last year’s freshmen could take a big step forward, combined with the spark from new coach Red Gendron.
Why the Black Bears will finish lower than predicted: On paper, the gap between Maine and the teams above it in the standings has gotten larger through attrition, not smaller.