February 25, 2010

UMaine eighth but searching for better

RACHEL LENZI

— By

Staff Writer

BOSTON — Tim Whitehead, the University of Maine men's hockey coach, admits he only puts so much stock in the Hockey East preseason polls.

Maine is ranked eighth out of 10 teams in the this year's poll released Wednesday at the league's annual media day at TD Garden. Whitehead insisted on using the seeding as an impetus for the Black Bears, who are looking for their first winning season since 2006-07.

''It's another small motivator for the players, to recognize that's not where we want to finish,'' said Whitehead, who enters his ninth season as head coach. ''But that's where we finished last year, so that's exactly what I expected.''

Maine, which opens Oct. 9 with two games at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., finished eighth in Hockey East last season with a 13-22-4 overall record and 7-17-3 in the conference.

The Black Bears pushed Boston University, the eventual national champion, to three games in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

BU topped the poll with six first-place votes, followed by UMass-Lowell and Boston College, each with two. Vermont and New Hampshire were tied for fourth, ahead of Northeastern, Massachusetts, Maine, Providence and Merrimack.

''Unless you're picked No. 1, you're probably not going to be satisfied where you're picked,'' said Vermont Coach Kevin Sneddon, whose team is coming off its first Frozen Four appearance since 1997.

''Everybody here is 0-0 and hoping to win a Hockey East championship this year. We're all competitive people and I don't think anybody is offended by where they're picked to finish.''

The top eight teams qualify for the Hockey East playoffs.

BU Coach Jack Parker already attached a label to the Black Bears.

''Hockey East is wide open,'' said Parker. ''The sleeper pick is Maine. After having two bad years, they're going to be a pretty good team.''

Whitehead said the Black Bears expect to be much better this season.

''We took some positive steps in the first half last year but in the second half we weren't able to sustain that success, whereas this year we feel we're a much stronger team,'' he said.

''We've cut some players that we didn't feel were helping the team, we added another great group of freshmen that should help us right away and our returning class is much more focused this year on the task at hand and sustaining a very strong season.

''There's no question we want to be playing hockey in March and April but that's a long way off. That's a pretty lofty goal for a team having finished in eighth place. But having said that, we want to do something special and to get there, we have to focus one week at a time.''

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

rlenzi@pressherald.com

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