BOSTON – For the past couple years, there hasn’t been much of a crowd around Coach Tim Whitehead at the annual Hockey East media day.

That changed Wednesday, given the high ranking of the University of Maine men’s team.

After the Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll was released Wednesday morning at TD Garden, plenty of media types surrounded Whitehead, who is starting his 10th year as the Black Bears’ head coach.

Maine was ranked second in the 10-team league, behind defending national champion Boston College, which received nine first-place votes. Maine received the other.

The Black Bears also were ranked seventh in the nation in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine preseason top 15 poll released Monday.

With the start of the season eight days away, Whitehead won’t admit to his team being one of the more glamorous picks in Hockey East, but he’ll admit to this much:

“It wasn’t really a big surprise,” said Whitehead, whose team was ranked eighth in last year’s preseason poll and ninth in 2008. “It’s nice to have earned some respect last year down the stretch, but it doesn’t mean anything until the puck’s dropped.

“It’s good recognition for the program. We feel we’ve taken some steps in the right direction, but this is an opportunity this year to take another step.”

Maine finished last season 19-17-3 and reached the Hockey East championship game, falling 7-6 in overtime to Boston College.

The Black Bears return five seniors and seven juniors, including Hobey Baker Award finalist Gustav Nyquist, the nation’s leading scorer last season with 19 goals and 42 assists.

“We returned a good core of guys for the first time in a long time,” Whitehead said. “But we’ve been doing this long enough to know we haven’t done a thing yet this season. I think ‘cautiously optimistic’ is a good way to frame it right now.”

Similarly, despite Maine’s highest ranking in recent years, Nyquist isn’t putting too much stock in the preseason polls.

“We haven’t proven anything yet,” said Nyquist, who admitted he didn’t take more than a glance at the polls. “It’s a challenge for us and we like a challenge. We have to be ready for the task.”

Nyquist, Whitehead and Maine interim athletic director Steve Abbott were among the Black Bears’ representatives at Hockey East media day, which brought together a contingent of coaches and players as well as Paul Kelly, the executive director of College Hockey Inc.

Less than six months after winning its second national championship in three seasons, Boston College topped not only the Hockey East preseason poll but also the USA Today/USA Hockey preseason poll.

“We have high expectations for ourselves and everybody knows that when you come to BC, you’re going to have high expectations,” Eagles goalie John Muse said. “We worked hard throughout the summer, on and off the ice, and everyone’s ready to focus on a new season.”

Hockey East has four teams ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey top 15: Boston College, Maine, New Hampshire (No. 8) and Boston University (No. 14).

“It’s good to be back in the national picture but, again, we still have to win those games,” Whitehead said. “To have earned some of that respect is a good feeling, but we want to earn more respect.

“We didn’t get to where we wanted to be last year. We want to take a couple more steps this year, but our challenge has just begun.” 

NOTES: Maine will have four games broadcast on the CBS College Sports Network this season: Oct. 15 at Michigan State, Oct. 22 at home against North Dakota, Dec. 10 at home against New Hampshire and Jan. 16 at home against Boston College. NESN will broadcast Maine’s two-game series Feb. 4-5 at New Hampshire and Maine’s Feb. 19 game at UMass-Lowell, and WABI will carry eight Maine home games. 

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

[email protected]