Maine’s Ben Poisson (12) tries to score on Omaha’s Austin Roden (36) as Alex Roy (47) right, tries to defend in the third period last season at Alfond Arena in Orono. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The 2019-20 season represented a step forward for the University of Maine men’s hockey team.

Now, with their schedule for this season released, the Black Bears can turn their attention to continuing that narrative this winter.

“We feel like we have a very, very solid team,” coach Red Gendron said during a Zoom conference last week, “with a chance to build on what we were able to achieve a year ago.”

After some lean years that saw the program post losing records in four of the previous five seasons, the Black Bears became a contender last winter, going 18-11-5 with a 12-9-3 mark in Hockey East. It was Maine’s first time over .500 both overall and in conference since 2013-14, and it had the Black Bears in the hunt for a national tournament berth; they were 15th in the PairWise Rankings when the coronavirus wiped out the rest of the season.

University of Maine goalie Jeremy Swayman (1) makes a save on a shot from University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Tristan Keck (19) in the first period at Alfond Arena at the University of Maine in Orono last season. Swayman is now with the Boston Bruins organization. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The Black Bears have lost their top player from that bounce-back campaign, though, as Hobey Baker finalist and Hockey East Player of the Year Jeremy Swayman joined the Boston Bruins organization after posting a 2.07 goals against average and .939 save percentage in his junior season. Maine also bid adieu to Mitchell Fossier, the team’s leading scorer the past three seasons, but Gendron said bouncing back from personnel losses is nothing new.

“Is it going to be different? Yeah,” he said. “Every year I get the same question. ‘Well, how do you replace Chase Pearson? How do you replace Brady Keeper?’ This year, it’s ‘How do you replace Mitch Fossier? How do you replace Jeremy Swayman?’ It’s like that every year. We’re going to do it, and those players who get these opportunities, their job is to step up and take advantage.”

Maine has a good starting point. The Black Bears bring back their entire defensive corps from their last game of the season, which saw JD Greenway paired with Cameron Spicer, Simon Butala with Adrien Bisson, and Jakub Sirota with Veli-Matti Tiuraniemi.

“(We’ve got) some great returning defensemen,” Gendron said. “A lot of those guys have been impressive at different times.”

The team has the second line of Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup, Ben Poisson and Adam Dawe intact and poised to take over as the top line, as well as Eduards Tralmaks, who tied for the team lead with 14 goals.

Gendron also highlighted the new players to the team, naming forward Lynden Breen, defenseman Kabore Dunn and goalies Victor Ostman and Connor Androlewicz, both of whom will be competing with sophomore Matthew Thiessen for Swayman’s spot in net.

• • •

The departed players will be missed by the Black Bears, but so will the fans, who annually turn Alfond Arena into one of college hockey’s best atmospheres. Few teams felt that home-ice advantage better last year than Maine, which went an impressive 13-1-3 at home, a record that included wins over No. 12 Northeastern and No. 18 Providence.

This year, thanks to the pandemic, the crowds will be away from Alfond, and Gendron didn’t try to hide the impact that could have.

“This is just one more thing we’re going to have to adapt to. We’re going to have to create our own energy,” he said. “We can’t rely on the fans at the Alfond when we’re not playing pretty well. You (normally) have some people stand up and start making noise, and rev up the crowd a little bit. … That’s a big part of it.”

At the same time, Gendron isn’t complaining.

“What’s the alternative, right?” he said. “There’s a lot (that’s going) to be different, and that’s how it’s going to be. It’s better than the alternative. Playing without fans is better than not playing at all.”

• • •

Asked about his players’ dedication during a pandemic that his thrown the sport into uncertainty, Gendron said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen.

“The energy in the locker room has been terrific,” he said. “We’ve never had a practice where I was on the verge of turning into an orangutan because we didn’t have adequate energy or focus. So it’s been really remarkable, and quite frankly inspirational, the way the kids have handled it.”

He had his doubts, however, particularly with the buildup to this season being so unorthodox.

“I was really concerned, because it was quite a while ago that it became apparent that we weren’t going to start until late November or possibly December,” said Gendron, who credited captain Jack Quinlivan with guiding the team through the summer and fall. “I’m sitting there thinking ‘How are the kids going to be able to maintain positive attitudes, and maintain their energy?’ But they’ve been absolutely phenomenal with that.”

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