ORONO — The University of Maine hockey team might not yet be back among the ranks of the league’s iron, but the Black Bears might be as close as they’ve been in years.

Competition notwithstanding in a 6-1 drubbing of the University of Prince Edward Island in an exhibition tuneup for the regular season Monday night, Maine looked confident in a number of areas on the Alfond Arena ice. Junior Mitchell Fossier scored a pair of power-play goals as part of a three-point night, four different players scored goals for the Black Bears and a small — thought potentially impactful — freshman class looked ready-made for the varsity.

With the season set to begin for real on Friday night with the first of a two-game weekend series with St. Lawrence, it was a a welcome sight for the Black Bears.

“I liked what I saw tonight,” Fossier said. “We showed some skill, especially our freshmen… There’s certainly things we want to clean up. That’s to be expected with your first game of the season, but I liked what I saw. Overall, it was pretty good.”

It was better than good on special teams, which was important for a team whose average power play and below-average penalty kill hurt them at times in 2017-18.

Maine, which succeeded less than 20 percent of the time with the man advantage a year ago, was 4 for 7 on the power play against the Panthers and a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill — a giant step forward for a team that ranked 53rd out of the nation’s 60 NCAA Division I teams last season.

After seeing 18 games decided by a goal or less last season, including a stretch of eight straight from Jan. 19-Feb. 14, the Black Bears will look for special teams improvement to turn those games into easier wins this campaign — and a Hockey East Association finish of better than fifth, which was where they landed last season and were predicted by the league’s coaches to finish again.

A huge amount of credit had to be given to freshman Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup’s impressive debut in a Maine sweater. Twice in the first 13 minutes against PEI, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Denmark whipped beautiful cross-ice passes to a waiting Fossier low in the right circle, and Fossier finished them both off effortlessly to give Maine a 2-0 lead.

Schmidt-Svejstrup would score on the power play himself in the second period, too, only four seconds after ringing a bid off the post he swatted home a Fossier feed with the Black Bears enjoying a two-man advantage. He added a second goal for himself in the third.

“We had a lot of guys tonight make real good skill plays — good shots, finishing off good plays,” said Maine head coach Red Gendron, now in his sixth season at the helm. “But that was particularly good on the power play. We saw the plays that were there and made good passes so the guys could shoot the puck quickly. I think that was important to our success.”

“I had a lot of fun. I’ve been waiting to be here for quite a while, so I’m obviously very excited,” Schmidt-Svejstrup said. “I think there’s still work to do, and I obviously haven’t seen another D-I team yet, but I’m sure we’ll be able to compete, 100 percent.”

Given that Maine only has four new freshmen in the program for the upcoming season, it wasn’t surprising to see a cohesive effort. What was surprising was the play of said freshmen, including Schmidt-Svejstrup, diminutive Adam Dawe (at 5-foot-8, the smallest Black Bear) and 6-foot-2 Simon Butala, who skated alongside senior captain Rob Michel on Maine’s second defensive pairing against PEI.

“We’ve got a good mesh going with the team this year. I think you saw some of that tonight,” Fossier said. “Anytime your turnover isn’t as big… it makes it easier. It’s easier to get into the systems, there’s more guys that have been through it. It’s a great mix. They’re not just guys coming in and not doing anything, but they’re coming in and making a huge difference for us.”

A year after the Black Bears saw 19 different players score a goal, the test run Monday indicated they might be on track for more of the same. Nine players registered at least a point in the win, including sophomore defensemen Alexis Binner and Brady Keeper with two assists each as the top defensive pairing.

“We did a lot of good things,” Gendron said. “The game taught us lessons about things we’ll need to be doing better come Friday night against St. Larence. We had some success with the power play, and that was hugely positive.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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