Nineteen freshmen and sophomores will dot the University of Maine’s 27-man hockey roster this season.
They are undergoing dry land training as well as getting limited on-ice practice time in preparation for their Oct. 17 opener at the Alaskan Gold Rush Tournament where they will face Alaska-Anchorage before facing host Alaska-Fairbanks the following night.
Maine eighth-year head coach Tim Whitehead is upbeat about the season while acknowledging there are plenty of holes to fill. Maine has lost its top six scorers off a 13-18-3 team that managed 2.3 goals per game a year ago but its biggest question mark will be in goal where workhorse Ben Bishop will have to be replaced.
“The guys came back in excellent condition. I’ve been very pleased with their [fitness] test results,” said Whitehead.
“The big push is to make sure we’re in great condition because we’re going to have a slim margin for error this season,” said Whitehead. “We’re going to be inexperienced in goal so we’re going to focus on team defense. We’ve got to keep the score down. We’ve got to play as a unit.”
Six-foot-6 freshman Scott Darling, a sixth-round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, and seldom-used junior Dave Wilson will battle for playing time with former Bangor High and Kents Hill goalie Josh Seeley being the third string goaltender.
Darling was 27-10-2 with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage for the Indiana Ice in the United States Hockey League. Wilson, who played in 14 games as a freshman while filling in for the injured Bishop, played in just four games totaling 79 minutes and 39 seconds last season.
“They’ll both see playing time, particularly early in the season,” said Whitehead.
Highly-touted Swedish goalie Pontus Hansson did not meet eligibility requirements but will play for the New Hampshire Monarchs of the Eastern Junior Hockey League this season and also work toward becoming eligible to attend Maine next season.
But two other Swedes are in camp in freshman forwards Gustav Nyquist and Theo Andersson. Nyquist was a fourth round draft pick of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
Sophomore center Keif Orsini and defenseman Mike Banwell have been slowed by off-season shoulder surgery but Whitehead expects both to be ready for the start of the season.
Maine, which finished ninth in Hockey East last year and missed the league playoffs after earning nine straight NCAA Tournament berths, will have a Blue-White exhibition on Oct. 4 before traveling to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton for exhibitions on Oct. 10-11.
Whitehead also announced they intend to bring back the members of the 1998-1999 NCAA championship team and honor them at a weekend home series this season.
Maine women off to good start
So far, so good for the University of Maine women’s soccer team.
The Black Bears, coming off their first losing season (6-8-3) since 2002, are 2-0-3 entering Saturday’s 1:00 home game against Bryant University (R.I.).
They have allowed just three goals while scoring seven.
“[Goalkeeper] Jasmine Phillips has been fantastic,” said 10th-year coach Scott Atherley. “In three of our five games, she has made big saves that kept us in the game or enabled us to win the game.”
He also praised backs Anjelica Hodgson, Cristina DiIelsi and York’s Hailey Blackburn for their play in front of Phillips.
He said overcoming a 2-0 deficit to earn a 2-2 tie at Temple University (Pa.) and erasing a 1-0 deficit to tie Rhode Island 1-1 with a late goal displayed his team’s resiliency.
Newcomers Courtney Harnais, Sady Tobin, Kaitlyn MacIsaac, Alli Krous and Carolyne Nellis have made immediate impacts, according to Atherley and that has expanded their depth significantly over last year.
“We can play 15-16 players without a drop-off this season,” said Athlerley who could only use 12 players comfortably a year ago.
However, Maine junior striker and leading scorer Laura Martel (3 goals) has sustained a minor knee injury that will limit or sideline her for a couple of weeks. Nellis is the second leading scorer (1 goal, 2 assists).