University of Maine men’s hockey players react after being defeated by Cornell, 3-1, in a first-round NCAA Tournament game on Thursday night in Springfield, Mass. AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Shortly after the University of Maine men’s hockey season ended with a 3-1 loss to Cornell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, junior defenseman David Breazeale didn’t want to look ahead. He wanted a do-over.

“It’s awesome to see how far we’ve come in two years. It’s hard to think about now, you want to go back and play the game over again and have a different result,” said Breazeale, a co-captain.

The sting of the season’s abrupt end was a momentary blinder to what the Black Bears accomplished this season. Maine finished third in the Hockey East standings, enjoyed a top 10 national ranking for much of the winter, and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years. UMaine’s 23 wins were the most since the 2011-12 team, which also won 23.

“I’m sure in a week or two, we can look at things and put them in perspective,” a disappointed Coach Ben Barr said after Thursday night’s loss at the MassMutual Center. “It’s hard to put into words right now. It hurts. It’s frustrating. When you don’t win your last game of the year, it feels like a failure.”

In January, Barr agreed to a contract extension with Maine that will pay him $425,000 this year, with an annual increase of $15,000 through 2028. Hired in 2021 following the sudden death of Coach Red Gendron, Barr’s Black Bears won seven games in his first season. Maine increased its win total by eight in Barr’s second season, winning 15 games in 2022-23, then added eight more wins this season.

“These guys worked extremely hard. They put our program back on the map again over the course of the last two years,” Barr said.


The University of Maine men’s hockey team celebrates after scoring a goal against New Hampshire in a Hockey East quarterfinal on March 16 in Orono. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Just what the 2024-25 Black Bears will look like is a question that will be answered over the coming weeks and months.

On paper, the Black Bears know they’re losing at least one player, forward Ben Poisson, who played this season as a graduate student. Four players remain from the 2020-21 season who were awarded an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA for being on the team during the height of the COVID pandemic – forwards Lynden Breen and Donavan Villeneuve-Houle, and goalies Victor Ostman and Connor Androlewicz. Each could return for a fifth season with the Black Bears.

It’s more likely Maine’s 2024-25 roster will see plenty of new faces. This season, 12 new players joined the Black Bears. Sixteen newcomers were on the roster in 2022-23, Barr’s second season, as the coach continued his rebuilding process. Some players who could return might enter the transfer portal and move on to a new school, and some could sign professional contracts.

Freshman Bradly Nadeau, picked in the first round of the 2023 draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, was the only member of this season’s team drafted by an NHL team. Nadeau led Maine in scoring with 19 goals and 27 assists, one point ahead of his older brother Josh, a freshman who scored 18 goals with 27 assists. Bradly’s future is likely to be determined by when Carolina decides it wants to sign him. The Hurricanes hold his draft rights as long as Nadeau is in college.

It’s not unusual for first-round picks to stay in school at least two seasons. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, who played at UMass when Barr was an assistant coach there, played two years with the Minutemen, winning the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player in 2019. Boston College forward Cutter Gauthier returned to college this season for his sophomore year after being drafted fifth overall by Philadelphia in 2022. Gauthier’s rights were traded to Anaheim this winter.

Forward Harrison Scott transferred from Bentley to UMaine before this season and scored 15 goals, including the team’s the lone goal in Thursday’s loss to Cornell. AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper

Barr could also add talent through the transfer portal. One of this season’s top offensive players for Maine, forward Harrison Scott, came to Orono through the portal from Bentley. Scott recorded 15 goals and 12 assists this season, including the lone goal in Thursday’s loss to Cornell. Forward Nicholas Niemo also transferred to Maine from Bentley this season, and had two goals and two assists in 18 games.

The biggest thing the Black Bears will take from reaching the NCAA Tournament is the experience, Breazeale said.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done this year. I think going forward, we’ll continue to grow our culture and continue to have 20, 25 capable players on the ice. Every single one of us is always going every single night,” Breazeale said.

“We see what it takes to win a championship. It’s obviously exciting that we’re here and the next step for us moving forward is going to be is getting past this first round and continue to grow this program and hopefully take us to a national championship.”

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