ORONO — The drill is basically hockey in a deer stand. At either end of the faceoff circle to the left of the goal crease was a net, protected by one of the University of Maine’s three goalies. Inside the circle, members of the men’s hockey team played short games of physical 2-on-2 hockey.

“I think for the most part, we just call it gangbusters, because we’re banging bodies,” said junior forward Lynden Breen. “That’s pretty much what it is right? Two-on-two, hard core, effort, attitude.

“We do that a couple times a week. Our practices are pretty high intensity. Coach (Ben) Barr likes to practice like we’re playing a game, so anything we can do to prepare, that’s what we’re doing.”

The rebuilding Black Bears play an exhibition game Oct. 1 against the University of Prince Edward Island at Alfond Arena. Maine then travels to Denver for its first two games of the regular season, against Air Force on Oct. 7 and defending national champion Denver on Oct. 8. Maine’s first regular-season home game is Oct. 22 against Quinnipiac.

With 16 newcomers on a 28-player roster, Barr is in phase two of his rebuilding plan. Along with 11 freshmen, the Black Bears have five transfers. The many new faces and drills designed to accentuate toughness are part of Barr’s biggest goal, to overhaul the team’s culture and work ethic.

Last season’s winning percentage of .273 (7-22-4) was Maine’s worst in four decades, going back to the 1982-83 season in which the Black Bears went 5-24 (.172). Across the board, in most statistical categories, they were at or near the bottom of Hockey East. Maine’s 74 goals were better than only Vermont’s 59. Maine’s 111 goals allowed was better than just the 120 allowed by Boston College, which played five more games than the Black Bears.


Maine was last in Hockey East in save percentage (.893), ninth of 11 teams in shooting percentage (7.6 percent), ninth in power-play percentage (14.8 percent) and ninth in penalty killing (77.4 percent).

“We need to get better at everything,” said Barr, now in his second season with the Black Bears. “I think there’s depth in our program now, top to bottom. If we had to pick 20 guys to play a real game tomorrow, I couldn’t tell you who those guys are. It’s nice to have the tough decisions, where last year was just trying to find enough healthy bodies to throw in there.”

University of Maine men’s hockey head coach Ben Barr talks to his players during practice Wednesday at Alfond Arena in Orono. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Captain Jakub Sirota, a graduate student defensemen, said he sees the culture of the team improving in the little details. Sirota pointed to a neutral zone drill the Black Bears ran in practice a couple weeks ago.

“Last year, Coach would stop it here and there and explain to guys what we’re doing. He was surprised at how well it was going for the first time,” Sirota said. “Everybody’s excited to get to work. Everybody’s excited to do extra. That goes a long ways toward winning games. You need guys who want to do extra.”

Breen, an assistant captain along with senior forward Ben Poisson and sophomore defenseman David Breazeale, led the Black Bears in scoring last season with nine goals and 16 assists. Maine’s top six scorers from last season are back.

The entire team has been in Orono since mid-July, Breen said, and that’s another sign of the changing culture. The players know the team hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2011-12 season, and the Black Bears have had just three winning seasons over the last 10. The goal is to change that.

“No one’s taking a day for granted. We’re trying to be the new Maine hockey. Way back was great, but the last couple years haven’t been,” Breen said.

While Maine was picked last in the Hockey East preseason poll, some of the voters in the USCHO.com poll seem impressed by Barr’s offseason moves. In the site’s preseason top 20 poll released Monday, Maine was among the teams receiving votes and was tied for 28th with Bowling Green, Omaha and Wisconsin.

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