BOSTON -- Coming off the first sub.-500 season of Norm Bazin's tenure, the UMass Lowell hockey team was picked to finish seventh in Hockey East by the league's head coaches.
Seventh is where the River Hawks finished in league play last winter.
"I don't put much stock in polls. I feel a prediction is much like a forecast -- it's wrong a lot of the time. It's up to us to go through our process and make sure we pay attention, take care of our business and improve every day. And if we do those things, we'll (be fine) by the end of the year," Bazin said at the league's media day at the TD Garden.
Boston College was picked as the top team, one point ahead of Providence. The 35th year of Hockey East will see three new head coaches -- Albie O'Connell (BU), Mike Souza (New Hampshire) and Scott Borek (Merrimack) -- take the helm.
Also, no longer will all 11 teams make the playoffs. Only the top eight will qualify this season, leaving three teams out in the cold.
"This is probably the most parity there's ever been in Hockey East," Bazin said.
Two programs that have struggled in recent years, Maine and UMass, were picked fifth and sixth, respectively.
"UMass is a team that should probably have been picked higher," Bazin said. "I think Maine is as good as they've been since I've been in the league. And then you've got your cast of characters that probably have the most talent in BC, BU and Providence.
UML's top returning scorers are junior Ryan Lohin (9-16-25) and senior Ryan Dmowski (11-11-22).
The goaltending should be solid with senior Chris Hernberg, who was terrific last season, and junior Tyler Wall, who was outstanding as a freshman.
A major question is on defense, as Tommy Panico, Chris Forney and Tyler Mueller graduated and Niklas Folin returned to Sweden to play pro hockey following his junior season. A 12-member freshmen class includes six defensemen, so they'll be plenty of new faces in the lineup.
"We've done a pretty masterful job in the past of not talking about opponents. We have expectations for ourselves. We talk about our process and how we're going to be there at the end of the year. It's very important to me that they don't worry about the outside noise. If we do that, I feel we have a very good corps of kids in that locker room," Bazin said.
Under Bazin, the River Hawks won Hockey East playoff titles in 2013, 2014 and 2017.
"I think Norm has as much respect as any coach in the league. I think there's a sense, whether it's articulated or not, that he's not going to allow the program to be out of the mix for too long," Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said.
"The thing with Norm, even when he had his great teams, other than the goaltenders, he doesn't always have household names. And then the smoke clears and Norm's got them at the Garden and winning championships with guys that you learn about as the season unfolds. So in that way I think he's hard to predict, and his program is hard to predict, where they're going to be."
UML hosts Acadia on Sunday (1 p.m.) for an exhibition game before opening for real against RIT for home games Oct. 12 and 13 at the Tsongas Center.
Exhibition game for openers
UMass Lowell will kick off the 2018-19 season with an exhibition game Sunday (1 p.m.) against Acadia, a Canadian team, at the Tsongas Center.
With 12 freshmen on the roster, a large class, many new faces will be in the lineup. The River Hawks must replace four defensemen. Head coach Norm Bazin said senior Chris Hernberg and junior Tyler Wall will both see time in net.
"I'm looking forward to playing another opponent, getting some kids game action and some timing," Bazin said. "I want to put in some of these young kids and get some of their anxiety out -- just be playing against an opponent.
"I'm looking forward to seeing some (of the freshmen). Some days some shine, other days some others shine. I'm looking forward to seeing how they respond in a real game situation," Bazin said. "I feel there's a lot of personality in this class. They're looking forward to getting going."