Hockey East Preview – University of Maine Black Bears

By: James Duffy

6108_maine_black_bears-secondary-1999Coach: Red Gendron; 5th season

Last Season: 11-21-4 (5-15-2 Hockey East, 11th); Lost to Vermont in HE First Round

Losses: F Cam Brown, F Blaine Byron, D Eric Schurhamer, G Matt Morris

Newcomers: F Adam Dawe, F AJ Drobot, F Brent Hill, F Kevin Hock, F Adrian Holesinsky, F Jack Quinlivan, F Eduards Tralmaks, F Emil Westerlund, F Tim Doherty, F Canon Pieper, D Alexis Binner, D Simon Butala, D Brady Keeper, D Cam Spicer

It was another disappointing year last season the once prolific Maine Black Bears. Legendary coach Red Gendron is entering a pivotal year in Orono after a third consecutive losing season, and he has a difficult task on his hands. Despite not being a senior-heavy team last season, fourth years carried almost all of the offensive load for Maine. Blaine Byron and Cam Brown racked up 41 and 39 points respectively as one of the most prolific duos in the nation, but no other Black Bear reached 25 points. Ultimately Maine sputtered down the stretch after a promising start, going 1-8-1 in their final 10 contests including a sweep at the hands of Vermont in the conference tournament.

Looking ahead, Maine has holes to fill. The offense will rely on Nolan Vesey and Chase Pearson to build on strong campaigns from last year and hopefully help soften the losses of Byron and Brown. After a lackluster sophomore season, Vesey matched a career high with 23 points last year, but will need to improve upon that if he wants to be the focal point in the Black Bears’ offense. Pearson, a 5th round pick by Detroit in 2015, needs to avoid the kind of sophomore slump Vesey suffered from and continue to build upon his impressive rookie season. Mitchell Fossier and Patrick Shea, Pearson’s classmates, will too be expected to take a step forward after recording 16 points each as freshmen.

For the offense to succeed, however, some of the newcomers need to contribute. Maine will add 10 forwards this season, eight freshman recruits and two transfers. Tim Doherty came over from Brown and Canon Pieper transferred from Quinnipiac, and the Black Bears expect both to make immediate contributions.

Swedish newcomer Emil Westerlund is the most intriguing incoming freshman, a 6-foot-1 winger who potted 28 goals in the Swedish Elite U-20 league, before scoring three times in four games for the Swedish junior national team.

The blue line suffered just one loss, assistant captain Eric Schurhamer, and could be improved from last season. Rob Michel had a breakout sophomore season, leading all defensmen in scoring after not recording a goal in his freshman year. Patrick Holway impressed in his rookie season with 13 points, and veterans Mark Hamilton, Sam Becker and Stephen Cochrane are just some of the established Maine defenders set to return.

The Maine defense will have some scoring prowess, and incoming freshman Brady Keeper could help chip in immediately. Keeper tallied 48 points in 48 games, while earning MVP honors in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

In goal, Rob McGovern will be back as the starter for his junior season. The loss of Matt Morris hurts, but his senior season was by far the worst of his NCAA career. In 11 games, he posted a goals allowed average of 4.27. McGovern, on the other hand, had a .912 save percentage and a 2.99 GAA, taking strides from his freshman season with the team. McGovern is the most important cog on the Maine team which has average offense and defense. They need him to improve, especially in big games. McGovern was rocky against Hockey East opponents, dropping his last five in-conference starts while allowing 24 goals in that span. Sophmore Stephen Mundinger will back him up after a forgettable freshman season, but it’d be surprising to see him start much more than a dozen games between the pipes.

Bottom Line: Maine’s offense will need to be deeper than it was last season, but with a good incoming crop of freshmen, strong transfers and a few capable veterans, their scoring should be less top heavy and overall on par with last season. Keeper could earn a starting spot on defense sooner rather than later, boosting an already mobile and offensive unit, but most of the pressure will fall on McGovern’s shoulders. He’s the X-factor that could help Maine climb out of the cellar and into the thick of things in Hockey East, but the Black Bears will struggle to do much better than 8th in the conference regardless.

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