Maine plummeted to 10th place in Hockey East last year, wiping the luster off the optimism posted the previous season, coach Red Gendron’s first as the head of the program.
Making matters considerably worse, Devin Shore and Ben Hutton, the two stars from last year’s team, turned pro early.
Nonetheless, Gendron sees no diminishing of his expectations.
“Our expectations are to be a championship-caliber team,” he said. “That’s what Maine hockey is all about. That’s what we’ve created as the culture in the program, and it’s our job to find ways to be successful.
“We think we have a stronger, more balanced team, but only time will tell. A big part of that is leadership within the dressing room. We think we have exceptional leaders this year. Not to say there was anything wrong with last year’s group, but we think we’re stronger in that respect now.”
One of last year’s downfalls was a rocky start, which bottomed out with an eight-game losing streak. Over the second half, the Black Bears fared much better, but they’d dug too deep a hole to crawl out of.
Not surprisingly, Gendron considers a stronger start to be especially important.
“That doesn’t mean you have to be 10-0 after the first 10,” he said, “but you want to be above .500 and putting yourself in a position to make a run the second half.”
14-22-3, 8-12-2 (10th) in Hockey East. Lost to Vermont in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
Names to know
Steven Swavely, Cam Brown, Blaine Byron and Nolan Vesey all topped 20 points last year, trailing only Shore. They’ll be counted on to do the offensive heavy lifting.
1. Who fills the shoes of Shore and Hutton?
2. Can the Black Bears avoid another disastrous bad start?
3. Will a year’s experience improve the goaltending?
Jim Connelly (11th place): A team that struggled a season ago will have to battle without the services of two of its best players — Shore and Hutton — both of whom signed NHL deals in the offseason.
David H. Hendrickson (10th place): Maine played much better over the second half of last year, but will be mightily challenged to keep any of that momentum going with its two megastars off to the pros.