ORONO – The annual expectations never seem to change for the University of Maine men’s hockey team, and with seven days left before the Oct. 7 opener against Merrimack, Brian Flynn didn’t hesitate to list the annual goals.

“Make the NCAA tournament, and be right there to win the Hockey East regular-season title and the playoffs,” said Flynn, one of the team’s co-captains.

But considering recent history, the goals seem a little lofty.

“Obviously we haven’t achieved any of that since I’ve been here,” Flynn said.

“Just because it hasn’t happened, I don’t think the expectations here will ever change. And the goals are pretty high here.”

The Black Bears met with the media Thursday, posed for a team picture in their home white jerseys, then fielded questions about the season.

While the Black Bears have spent the past month doing on- and off-ice training, they’ll hold their first official practice Saturday with the coaching staff in preparation for Sunday’s exhibition against New Brunswick and the Oct. 7 opener, both at Alfond Arena.

“This year we have a different mentality,” said Mark Anthoine, a sophomore forward from Lewiston. “We’re going to focus on hard work, working on the little things and playing as a team.

“We have to move forward together.”

But less than seven months ago, a season filled with similar expectations ended swiftly. The Black Bears finished 17-12-7 overall and 14-8-5 in Hockey East, went winless in six games from Jan. 22 to Feb. 11 and finished fifth in Hockey East.

Maine was then eliminated by Merrimack in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

In addition, the Black Bears graduated five seniors and lost right wing Gustav Nyquist, who turned pro with the Detroit Red Wings after his junior season.

“Last spring was long, just being out of (the playoffs) before we thought we should,” said senior defenseman Will O’Neill, one of Maine’s co-captains. “Seeing the seniors leaving and the turnover, it was a much harder spring than we thought it was going to be.”

Picked to finish fourth in the Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll, the Black Bears will return eight juniors and six seniors, including O’Neill, Flynn and senior left wing Spencer Abbott, who finished ninth in Hockey East scoring with 17 goals and 23 assists.

Maine also enters the season ranked 15th in the nation in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top 15 poll and 16th in the nation in the USCHO.com top 20 poll.

“We were ranked second last year and ranked eighth my freshman year,” said Flynn, who will shift from left wing to center Maine’s top line with Abbott and Joey Diamond. “The league is so close and there’s so much parity. We can’t make that call right now.”

At the same time, the Black Bears will consider the expectations they’ve set for themselves.

“The goals haven’t changed since I’ve been here,” O’Neill said.

“We want to win our first game. Then win the next game and then the next game. If you focus on just a game at a time and not get too far ahead of ourselves, then everything will work out.

“The bigger goals, like winning the league championship or getting to the NCAA tournament, that will take care of itself.”

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

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Twitter: rlenzi