Maine optimistic it can replace lost scoring, improve goaltending

Maine had one of the top three offenses in Hockey East last year, but lost 121 points of production from just three forwards. Can the Black Bears fill those holes and retain their elite goalscoring status? Well, they certainly have a good start in seniors Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn, who both finished in the 35-40 point range. Joey Diamond was also a double-digit goal scorer.

“They’re certainly are our top three coming back, and they’re real good,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead says. “Then we have some [younger] guys that I think are in the position to really emerge as a big part of the team. Those guys have taken a great step over the summer.”

Maine’s goaltending struggled last year, with no one posting a save percentage higher than .894. That’s no recipe for success. So perhaps the biggest question for this year’s team is whether the freshmen lumps that Dan Sullivan and Martin Ouellette took will translate into considerably stronger play.

“I’m very confident that these two guys are going to really surprise people this year,” Whitehead says. “We’re going to be very determined to play great team defense in front of them to give them the opportunity to take the next step. I love those two guys and am very confident down the road they are going to be elite.”

The defensive corps that will be relied on to make life easier on the goaltenders will have some holes to fill following the graduation of three seniors. Surprisingly, freshmen won’t automatically be part of that mix. The initial outlook is for returning players to move into larger roles.

“We took a big hit to graduation, but Will O’Neil has been an elite player for us over the last couple of years,” Whitehead says. “He’ll be our leader back there, but we’ll also have Mike Cornell, Ryan Hegarty, Mark Nemec, Brice O’Connor, Nick Pryor and Matt Mangene, who’s going to play some D and forward. That’s a pretty darn good core there.”

About the Black Bears

2010-11 overall record: 17-12-7

2010-11 HEA record: 14-8-5 (fifth)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fourth

Key losses: Forwards Gustav Nyquist, Robby Dee and Tanner House; defensemen Josh Van Dyk, Jeff Dimmen and Mike Banwell

Players to watch: Forwards Spencer Abbott, Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond; defenseman Will O’Neill

Impact rookie: John Parker

Why the Black Bears will finish higher than the coaches poll: One of Maine’s sophomore goaltenders emerges as a difference-maker.

Why the Black Bears will finish lower than the coaches poll: Too many holes to fill and another year of subpar goaltending.