Last year the University of Maine men’s ice hockey team surprised many by finishing fourth in the Hockey East standings to earn their first home playoff series since 2012. This year, with many key departures, will be intriguing to see if they will be able to build on what they did last season, or if it was just a flash in the pan.
This year has already been off to a rough start, but it has nothing to do with what’s happening on the ice. The season was originally scheduled to start on Friday, Nov. 20, but UMaine has postponed the start of the season until at least Dec. 11. UMaine had to postpone their first three series against UMass, UConn and Merrimack. This was due to COVID-19 cases on the UMaine campus according to a statement released by UMaine Athletics. Hopefully, with on-campus students at home for the rest of the semester, this will mean we will be able to start the season against UNH in Orono on Dec. 11.
In the preseason poll, UMaine was picked to finish ninth out of the eleven teams in Hockey East. Only Merrimack and Vermont were picked to finish lower. It seems harsh on the surface considering that UMaine finished fourth last year, but this team has a lot of question marks coming into this season. Most notably because of the players who departed UMaine after last season. Preseason polls do not really mean much; they are fun to discuss but are rarely ever proven to be completely right.
UMaine lost their two leading scorers from last season, Tim Doherty and captain Mitchell Fossier. Doherty transferred to Penn State and Fossier is now with the Rockford Ice Dogs of the American Hockey League. Fossier finished tied for seventh in the country in points, and Doherty finished tied for 18th. Top 20 scorers in the country do not grow on trees, and their offensive production will be tough to replace. UMaine will need returning forwards to take the next step. Adam Dawe, Eduard Tralmaks and Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup are the top scorers who are returning and they all have to take a step forward to make up for the loss of Fossier and Doherty, as well as hope other players who had lesser roles last season will step up.
They also lost arguably the best player in the country last year in goalie Jeremy Swayman. Swayman unsurprisingly decided not to return for his senior season and go pro by joining the Boston Bruins. Swayman was a Hobey Baker finalist for the top player in the country, won the Richter award for the top goalie in the country and won the Hockey East player of the year. Matthew Thiessen is the expected starter for UMaine this upcoming season. He is the only returning goalie from last season. Thiessen was drafted 192nd overall in the 2018 NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks. He has had one appearance at the college level, and it did not go well for him, letting in three goals on six shots. Obviously, that is not a fair sample size to judge him on. It was the only time another goalie besides Swayman made an appearance last season. At this point there is no guarantee he has the job, and the two first-year goalies Connor Androlewicz and Victor Ostman could definitely see significant ice time if Thiessen does not prove himself to be the definitive No. 1 goalie. This position is definitely the biggest question mark on the roster and it will be intriguing to see who gets the most starts.
A great thing for UMaine is that all six defenders who played the majority of the games are back. This should mean that the UMaine defense should see a decent bit of improvement. UMaine ranked 10th in the country for fewest goals against, despite allowing the eighth most shots. It will be interesting to see how both those rankings change: can they allow that many shots and keep the goal totals down without Swayman in the net? UMaine was the only team in the top 10 of shots against to have a winning record. So let’s hope they do not concede that many shots to opponents this year. It will be intriguing to see if anyone not on the blueline last year will crack the lineup regularly this year. With first-year Kabore Dunn the sole new defenseman on the roster, it seems unlikely, but you never know who will step up and take someone’s spot.
It will be a strange year for NCAA hockey, we have no idea how many games will actually be played, or if the season will be completed. What we do know is what is planned. UMaine will only be scheduled to play teams in Hockey East, there will be no out of conference games. Also to qualify for the NCAA tournament you will have to have played at least 13 games. Right now UMaine has 21 games scheduled for the season. Nothing has been released on whether the six games that have already been postponed will be rescheduled.
So let’s hope that we can watch some UMaine men’s hockey come Dec. 11.