Much of the roster consists of freshmen and sophomores. And this University of Maine men’s hockey team is again predicted to finish near the bottom in Hockey East.

Coach Red Gendron doesn’t care.

“We’re young but it doesn’t matter. We’re talented,” he said.

That talent goes on display Friday, when the Black Bears open their season with a two-game series against the University of Connecticut at Alfond Arena in Orono. Friday’s game is at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday’s at 4.

Gendron, entering his fifth season, hasn’t had a winning record since his first. His last three teams have finished 10th or 11th out of 12 teams in Hockey East.

This year’s preseason poll of coaches had the Black Bears in a tie for 10th with Massachusetts in what has become an 11-team league, with Notre Dame leaving for the Big 10.

Gendron guaranteed his team would not finish 10th or 11th.

“That’s how I feel about this team,” Gendron said. “We have depth at every position. We have people who can make plays. We have size and speed. We can defend. We have good goaltending.”

Improved defending and goaltending would help Maine considerably. Last year the defense ranked 52nd of the nation’s 60 Division I teams, allowing 3.47 goals per game.

“It was clear we didn’t have an excellent record defensively. Statistics certainly support that,” Gendron said. “We just spent too much time in our end … combination of not enough mobility and puck skill.

“You have to make a play and get the puck out. I don’t think we did that particularly well. We really feel we added pieces to the puzzle to do that.”

In a 3-1 exhibition victory against Acadia of Nova Scotia on Sunday, the Black Bears moved the puck well.

“We played pretty fast overall,” Gendron said.

Maine dressed seven freshmen, seven sophomores, six juniors and three seniors – including the top returning scorer, Nolan Vesey (13 goals, 10 assists).

One key freshman is goalie Jeremy Swayman, a fourth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2017 draft. He will compete for time with junior Rob McGovern, who had a 2.99 goals-against average last winter. Maine also has a new, full-time goalie coach in Alfie Michaud, the MVP of Maine’s 1999 national championship team.

“Hiring Alfie Michaud enhances the potential for both of those kids,” Gendron said.

“The first thing you need to say is that Rob McGovern has proven he can do it. He played superbly at times last year. At other times he was not quite as sharp.Jeremy Swayman is obviously considered to be a pretty good goalie by the Boston Bruins.”

In the exhibition, the goalies each played 1½ periods. McGovern stopped all three of the shots against him, Swayman 15 of 16.

The defensemen are led by senior Mark Hamilton and junior Rob Michel. Two freshmen, Brady Keeper and Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi are expected to contribute right away.

Maine finished 5-15-2 in Hockey East last year and 11-21-4 overall. The Black Bears struggled as the visiting team, with an 0-13-4 record.

Maine split two games with Connecticut last year. The Huskies were 8-10-4, 12-16-8.

UConn features one player from Maine, sophomore forward Ben Freeman of Falmouth.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH