They have won 31 hockey games the last two seasons, made their first ever playoff appearance during a 16-15-4 campaign a year ago, and they return a pair of 25-goal scorers.
But the University of Maine’s women’s hockey team was still only picked to finish fifth among six teams in the first season of the Hockey East women’s league.
“That will definitely serve as motivation,” said junior right wing Karen Droog, a second team All-ECAC selection a year ago who has scored 47 goals in 60 career games including 25 last season.
Senior goalie Dawn Froats predicted that this year’s team will be the best she has played on at Maine “by far.”
Sixth-year coach Rick Filighera said he will have three lines intact for the first time ever “and that’s going to make a difference.”
Left winger Meagan Aarts, the team’s leading scorer a year ago with 25 goals and 22 assists, and Droog (25 & 12) will be rejoined by center Jarin Sjogren (5 & 12), who missed the last 15 games with a broken leg.
Nicole Munro (8 & 11), who had replaced Sjogren, will be back centering LW Cindy Biron (4 & 7) and RW Tristan Desmet (8 & 7).
The all-sophomore third line will feature Cheryl White (6 & 11) centering for LW Rebecca Culver (1 & 3) of Topsham and RW Andrea Steranko (6 & 7).
Freshman Alanna Pfeffer and senior Cailee Heggestad (4 & 4), who is trying to overcome a nagging knee injury, should also see action.
“We may not have four solid lines at the start but our first three lines are good and everyone is going to find the net,” said senior Munro.
Filighera said he is “really excited” about his defense corps thanks to the return of German Olympian Raffi Wolf, the school’s all-time leading scorer who played for her country in the Winter Olympics last year, and the addition of freshmen Morgan Janusc and Vicky Johnstone.
Filighera said he took a page out of the book of late Maine men’s hockey coach Shawn Walsh “by moving a skilled forward [Wolf] back to defense to create offense.
“Raffi gives us a presence on the ice every other shift and she’s in wonderful shape,” said Filighera.
“Having Raffi back helps a lot. It brings our confidence up a lot. She’s a great player. She’ll have a definite impact on our team,” said Droog.
Juniors Naomi Smethurst (0 & 10) and Rebecca Ouellet (1 & 4) and sophomore Laura Maddin (1 & 6) are seasoned veterans and freshman Kate Hartley has shown promise.
Filighera feels his team is in “good shape” between the pipes with senior Froats (7-5-1, 3.08 goals-against average, .876 save percentage) and junior Lara Smart (5-6-1, 2.50, .904) returning. Smart made 26 saves in the Canadian Under-22 team’s 5-1 win over the United States U-22s in August.
Maine opens with a pair at Vermont this weekend.
WOMEN’S ICE HOCKEY
25 ? at Vermont, 2 p.m.
26 ? at Vermont, 6 p.m.
2 ? at New Hampshire, 2 p.m.
3 ? at New Hampshire, 2 p.m.
9 ? Providence, 1 p.m.
10 ? Providence, 1 p.m.
15 ? at Quinnipiac, 5 p.m.
16 ? at Quinnipiac, 8 p.m.
29 ? at Yale, 2 p.m.
30 ? at Princeton, 2 p.m.
7 ? at Niagara, 3 p.m.
14 ? at Harvard, 7 p.m.
6 ? Colgate, 7 p.m.
7 ? Colgate, 7 p.m.
11 ? Boston College, 1 p.m.
12 ? Boston College, 1 p.m.
17 ? at Connecticut, 7 p.m.
19 ? Northeastern, 1 p.m.
25 ? Niagara, 1 p.m.
26 ? Niagara, 1 p.m.
31 ? Cornell, 7 p.m.
1 ? Cornell, 7 p.m.
8 ? Quinnipiac, 1 p.m.
11 ? New Hampshire, 7 p.m.
15 ? at Northeastern, 2 p.m.
16 ? at Northeastern, 2 p.m.
22 ? at Boston College, 2 p.m.
23 ? at Providence, 2 p.m.
1 ? Connecticut, 1 p.m.
2 ? Connecticut, 1 p.m.