Solid one-two punch could lift Maine, but goaltending is key

Defenseman Ben Hutton (center) is part of Maine’s one-two punch with forward Devin Shore (photo: Melissa Wade).

Maine rebounded last year to a 9-8-3 record in Hockey East play, but coach Red Gendron knows that means little.

“In Maine, the only thing that matters to us is competing for, and winning championships,” he says. “It’s nice to say the team took some strides last year, but neither myself or anybody involved with our program was satisfied with the results.

“We’ll get after it [this year]. Whether or not we’ll be there, who knows?”

The biggest question will be in net, where then-seniors Martin Ouellette and Dan Sullivan played every game last year. Three goaltenders will vie to see who can best provide the answer.

Matt Morris redshirted last season due to injury after playing six games as a freshman. Sean Romeo, recruited before Gendron’s arrival last season, returns from a year in the USHL. And Nik Nugnes joined the team midway through last year.

“It’s not a secret that we don’t have any experience to speak of,” Gendron says. “So that’s certainly a question mark, but we like our goalies. It’s just up to them to find a way to perform.

“It will be wide-open competition. If we can play more than one, we will. If only one can get the job done, [we’ll do that]. It’s 100 percent up in the air. They’ll decide for me.”

Outside of the crease, Maine features arguably the top one-two punch in the league: forward Devin Shore and defenseman Ben Hutton, both juniors.

“Without question, we’re looking for them to be exceptional players,” Gendron says. “They’re All-Americans and Hockey East all-stars from a year ago. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to be great this year. They’ve got to prepare even better than they did a year ago. That’s on them, and they know it. Obviously, we’re counting on them to be very good players.”

Beyond the two stars, Maine brings back all but two forwards and one defenseman. The Black Bears add two redwoods on defense: 6-foot-3, 220-pound Mark Hamilton, and 6-2, 220-pound Malcolm Hayes.

“We’re a little bit bigger and a little bit meaner back there, so that’s positive,” Gendron says.

If the goaltending comes through, the added experience throughout the rest of the roster may help the Black Bears perform better on the road. Last year, they were 13-3 at Alfond Arena but an eye-popping 1-12-3 away.

“That was surprising,” Gendron says. “All I can say is, we better be better.”

About the Black Bears

2013-14 record: 16-15-4

2013-14 conference record: 9-8-3 (seventh)

2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): Sixth

Key losses: G Martin Ouellette, F Mark Anthoine, D Brice O’Connor

Key returnees: F Devin Shore, D Ben Hutton, F Connor Leen, F Steven Swavely

Why the Black Bears will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: Shore and Hutton are studs. Other than in goal, Maine lost less talent than every team except Providence. And after going 1-12-3 on the road, the Black Bears can only get better.

Why the Black Bears will finish lower than the coaches poll: If no one among the new goaltenders emerges, it could be a long season.