2009-10 Maine Season Preview

An aberration.

That’s what Maine hockey fans hope that the past two seasons have been.

After nine straight 20-plus win campaigns, nine straight trips to the NCAA tournament, six visits to the Frozen Four and, of course, a national championship, the Black Bears have posted two straight 13-win seasons. To say that the natives are getting restless might be an understatement.

Coach Tim Whitehead understands that. Six of those seasons in that nine-season run were on his watch. He was an assistant at Maine in the early 1990s when the club was on the brink of becoming a national power.

So he knows well that there’s little tolerance in Orono — and Bangor, Presque Isle, Portland, Augusta and every other town in Maine — for mediocrity.

“They’re not used to losing,” Whitehead said of the Black Bear faithful. “It’s difficult because as coaches we’re not used to losing, either. There’s a low tolerance for poor performance.

“Our big focus in the offseason was bringing our culture back to where it was two years ago when we hit our third Frozen Four in four years. That was no accident, but neither was our slip. Certain guys signed [early with the NHL], but that’s not our whole story.

“We had some guys in the program that just didn’t appreciate the opportunity they had enough to stick around.”

Whitehead was quick with the sword, dismissing three juniors-to-be in the offseason in Lem Randall, Keif Orsini and Glenn Belmore. Though not elaborating on the issues with each player, Whitehead seems confident that the resultant will be a stronger bond among those who remain.

“Last year, we had a tough second half and when that happens some guys respond great, some guys don’t,” said Whitehead. “We lost a little bit of expectation how to carry ourselves, on and off the ice. So we addressed that and are really excited about the feeling around the team.”

On the ice, there’s also reason to be optimistic. The club’s top performers from a year ago — in all positions — were freshman. Rookie Gustav Nyquist led the team in scoring with 13 goals and 32 points. Will O’Neill was one of the more impressive rookie blueliners in the league. And freshman Scott Darling had an immediate impact in net for the Black Bears.

“Last year was an exceptional year in that our biggest contributing group was our freshman,” said Whitehead. “Fortunately they were the top-scoring freshman class in the league so they not only logged ice time it was productive.”

The fact that all of that class returns, a year older and a year wiser, will keep a similar pressure off this year’s freshman class. That, though, doesn’t mean that Whitehead wouldn’t love another outburst from the rookies.

“They’re excited,” Whitehead said of the freshmen. “For them, it’s good timing. They’re not joining a nationally ranked team. So they come in knowing they’re going to be expected to play.”

Even with optimism abound, Whitehead has a “Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day” mentality. He knows that climbing the ladder in Hockey East can take time, even for programs with the history of Maine. But certainly expectations are much higher for the Black Bears and assuming those can translate into success, fans of black Bear nation will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.


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