Hockey East Preview – University of Maine Black Bears

Head Coach – Red Gendron (first season)

Last season – 11-19-8 (HE: 7-12-8), 8th place

Losses: F Kyle Beattie, D Mike Cornell, F Joey Diamond, F Klas Leidermark, D Mark Nemec , D Nick Pryor, F Adam Shemansky

Newcomers: F Cam Brown, F Blaine Byron, F Brady Campbell, F Zach Glienke, F Josh Henke, F Brian Morgan, D Daniel Renouf, D Eric Schurhamer

Last year was the start of a transition for the Black Bears of Orono. After graduating the likes of Spencer Abbot and Brian Flynn in 2012, Maine struggled on offense, scoring just 2.03 goals per game, ranking last in the league. The power play was dismal as well, converting just 13.1% of its opportunities, ranking ninth in the league. The team’s play improved as the season continued, led by the emergence of junior goaltender Martin Ouellette and the development of freshmen Devin Shore, Ryan Lomberg, Steven Swavely, and Ben Hutton. The improvement was enough to sneak into the playoffs with the eighth seed, but their season came to an end in the first round against the eventual champions, the River Hawks of UMass-Lowell.

Despite the late season surge, the Black Bears elected to make a change at head coach, firing Tim Whitehead after 12 seasons. To replace him, Maine hired Red Gendron. Just the second head hockey coach hired in Orono since 1984, Gendron sports an impressive resume. Most notably, he was an assistant coach at Maine for the legendary Shawn Walsh from 1990-1993, including the memorable 1993 national champions that posted a staggering 42-1-2 record. Gendron was most recently an assistant at Yale, helping guide the Bulldogs to a national championship last spring.

The losses of leading-goal scorer Joey Diamond and a key offensive contributor in Kyle Beattie should be offset by the six incoming forwards and the further development of the sophomore class. Look for Devin Shore, who posted six goals and 20 assists last year, to have a big year in his second go-around in Hockey East. Another player to watch for the Black Bears is junior Connor Leen, who tied for second on the team in goals (seven) despite missing the last ten games of the season with Crohn’s disease.

On the other side of the rink, senior Martin Ouellette will lead the way, having wrestled the starting job from Dan Sullivan last year by posting a 2.42 GAA in 30 games played.  His high level play will be even more important for Maine this year; having graduated defensive rocks Mark Nemec and Mike Cornell, the Black Bears will have just two upperclassmen on the blue line this year. Junior Jake Rutt, who stepped up his game down the stretch last year, and senior Brice O’Connor have their work cut out for them. Sophomore Ben Hutton will be important to the team’s defensive efforts as well.

Bottom line: With promising young talent and coaching, look for Maine to make some noise in Hockey East this year. Ultimately, the youth up and down the roster will win out. The Black Bears will need at least another year or two before cracking into the tough top tier of the league.