Despite the sudden departure last week of point-producing junior defenseman Patrick Holway for personal reasons, the University of Maine men's hockey team still has the potential this season to make the program's first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2011-12 campaign.
Ten of the Black Bears' top 12 scorers, all but two defensemen and all three goalies, including Hockey East All-Rookie team selection Jeremy Swayman, return.
Freshman right wingers Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup and Adam Dawe, who made impressive debuts in Monday's 6-1 exhibition victory over the University of Prince Edward Island, appear to be immediate impact scorers.
UMaine had a nice turnaround campaign a year ago, going 18-16-4 (10-11-3 Hockey East) after compiling a 19-45-10 mark over the previous two seasons. The Black Bears also went 9-8-1 on the road record after snapping a streak of 23 road games without a win (0-19-4).
UMaine finished tied for fifth in the league after being picked last in both preseason polls and was chosen to finish fifth this season.
UMaine was 17th among the 60 Division I teams in goals last winter with 3.08 per game and ranked 27th on the power play (19.5 percent).
But if the Black Bears are going to vie for an NCAA tourney berth, they must significantly improve their penalty-killing and team defense, and reduce their penalty minutes.
UMaine's penalty-killing percentage (76.6) was 53rd, its 3.03 goals per game allowed was 36th, and it was the nation's fifth-most penalized team (15.1 minutes per game).
"We know we have some good players who have proven they can perform," sixth-year head coach Red Gendron said. "We have the most veteran team we've had in a while. We have high expectations, but we have to stick to the process of getting better every day.
"It's pretty clear that if we had given up fewer goals, were a little sharper on the power play, were a little better on the penalty kill and took fewer penalties, we would have had a few more wins," he added.
UMaine had seven players rack up at least 21 points last season and six return, led by junior left wing and alternate captain Mitch Fossier, and junior center and co-captain Chase Pearson.
Fossier (12 goals, 22 assists last winter) isn't flashy, but he does everything well and has emerged as an elite forward in Hockey East. He led the team with 12 power-play points and had five game-winning points (2 & 3).
Pearson is solid in all facets of the game. He had seven goals, which was seven fewer than his 2016-17 tally, and 20 assists last winter, but is hopeful he can bounce back and become a more consistent scorer.
First-year players Eduards Tralmaks (11 goals, 14 assists) and Tim Doherty (11 & 12), and defenseman Brady Keeper (6 & 16) were valuable contributors and should be even better.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Tralmaks is strong on the puck and can really shoot it. He had eight power-play points (4 & 4). Doherty, who had seven points (4 & 3) with the man advantage, is fast and crafty. The smooth-skating Keeper has exceptional poise at the point, good offensive instincts and a heavy shot.
Tenacious and speedy senior right wing Brendan Robbins (11 & 10) has improved his numbers every year and that trend should continue. Sophomore left wing Emil Westerlund had a productive freshman campaign (7 & 6), and senior transfer center Canon Pieper (4 & 8) was a resourceful two-way player. Junior right wing Patrick Shea (5 & 9) is quick and hard-nosed and shared the team lead in game-winning goals (3).
Schmidt-Svejstrup (6-2, 210) has an NHL shot and is a heady player who was a second team United States Hockey League all-star last year. He had 26 goals and 17 assists in 40 games for the Clark Cup champion Fargo Force. He had two goals and an assist in Monday's exhibition game.
Dawe (5-8, 161), who had 23 & 19 for Sioux Falls in the USHL, appeared competent quarterbacking the power play Monday night. He had a goal and he threw a couple of bone-rattling checks.
"He fears no one," chuckled Gendron.
Both are right-hand shots and UMaine doesn't have a right-shot forward who is a pure goal scorer.
Junior Ryan Smith (4 & 2) is a good two-way player, sophomore Jack Quinlivan and senior Dan Perez (2 & 2) will supply a needed physical presence, and sophomores Kevin Hock and Adrian Holesinsky plus freshman Edward Lindelow will also vie for ice time.
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On defense, Keeper is joined by seniors Rob Michel (5 & 12), Keith Muehlbauer (2 & 1) and Sam Becker (0 & 2); sophomores Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi (3 & 5), Alexis Binner (1 & 8) and Cam Spicer; and freshman Simon Butala.
Co-captain Michel had eight power-play points (4 & 4) and has become one of the league's best all-purpose defensemen. Binner (6-4, 222) had a good freshman season and is a mobile. Tiuraniemi supplies offense and alternate captain Muehlbauer is a dependable stay-at-home defenseman.
Butala had a quality exhibition performance and Becker has 66 career games under his belt. Spicer was on the team last season but didn't play.
Swayman, a fourth-round pick of the Boston Bruins, had the nation's 14th best save percentage (.921) last season with a 2.77 goals-against average and a 15-12-3 record. Senior Rob McGovern (3-4-1, 3.57) and junior Stephen Mundinger (1 game) are capable backups.
UMaine opens its season Friday night in Orono against St. Lawrence.
This article is written by Larry Mahoney from Bangor Daily News, Maine and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.