DURHAM — As a rule coaches and players don’t pay much attention to preseason polls.

But being picked to finish 10th out of 12 teams in Hockey East doesn’t sit well with the University of New Hampshire hockey team, even though that’s where the Wildcats ended up last year after winning just four of 22 league games and they don’t look much better on paper going into this season.

“Motivating,” was all coach Dick Umile would say about the slight. “I told my team how I felt about it.”

“I think it upset some of us,” added captain and senior defenseman Matias Cleland. “It’s not where we want to be.”

The lack of respect from league coaches is based on last year’s performance — UNH lost 20 games for the first time since the 1988-89 season — and the loss of the Wildcats’ top three goal-scorers who accounted for almost half of the team’s total production.

“I think we’re out to surprise a lot of people,” said senior forward Tyler Kelleher, the team’s leading returning scorer. “Teams won’t be expecting a lot out of us I guess. I think it motivates everyone in our locker room to get better. Hopefully we can show them what we’re made of.”

The departure of Andrew Poturalski hurt the most. Last year’s MVP, who led the team in goals and points, opted to turn pro after two seasons at UNH.

The Wildcats finished 11-20-6 overall last season and missed the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years. They were eliminated by Merrimack in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.

“I looked at (the poll) once,” Cleland said. “We’ll never look at it again. Obviously that’s something you don’t want to see. We’re a little low. We understand how we ended up last season. It kind of left a bitter taste in our mouth. … We want to make some people think again about where they put us.”

Among the top returners are Kelleher, who led the team in assists a year ago (36) and was second in points (46), and Cleland, who led Division I in blocked shots with 112 and ranked third on the team in assists (23) and points (28).

“Our class hasn’t made the NCAA tournament yet,” Kelleher said. “That’s one of our goals, but it doesn’t just come. You’ve got to work for it every day.”

Junior goalie Danny Tirone is back and classmate Adam Clark returns after missing all but two games last season with a shoulder injury. Clark recently received a medical redshirt, giving him another year of eligibility if he chooses to use it.

Six of the Wildcats’ top eight defensemen return, including senior Dylan Maller, junior Cam Marks and sophomore Matt Dawson. Harry Quast graduated and John Furgele transferred after his sophomore season.

“I think we’ll be better on defense,” Umile said. “We weren’t very good in that area last year.”

Offensively, the Wildcats will look to juniors Shane Eiserman, Jason Salvaggio and Michael McNicholas, and sophomores Marcus Vela and Ara Nazarian for increased production.

The Wildcats lost a lot of close, low-scoring games last season.

“We have to work on closing games out and being tougher on defense,” Kelleher said. “Giving guys less space and being meaner in the defensive zone I think will help us out.”

“I think the biggest thing we learned is how small the margin is between winning and losing,” Tirone said.

Freshman forward Brendan van Riemsdyk — the third of three brothers to play at UNH — headlines a rookie class that includes five forwards and two defensemen, including Nick Nonis of Hampton Falls.

Anthony Wyse, a 6-3, 225-pound freshman defenseman, has impressed in captain’s practices.

The Wildcats host New Brunswick in an exhibition game (Sunday at 4 p.m.) and open the season on Saturday, Oct. 8, against Bentley at the Whittemore Center.

“I think Sunday’s going to be a real test to gauge where the team’s at,” Cleland said. “We’re pretty excited for it.”