University of Maine freshman defenseman Ryan Hegarty will get to renew some friendships and he and several other Black Bears will get an opportunity to prove themselves when they face off against the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad in an exhibition game tonight at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center.
Game time is 7.
Hegarty had seven goals and 16 assists in 55 games for the USA Under-18 team last season and he will be playing against several ex-teammates like left wing Jeremy Morin and right wings Ryan Bourque and Kyle Palmieri.
“Seeing those guys will be fun and playing against them will be a blast,” said Hegarty, who has three assists in 12 games this season. “Last year [when he played against Maine in Orono] was an unbelievable experience for me. I’m a little bummed they won’t get to play us at the Alfond and get a feel for the atmosphere, but they’ll definitely understand what our team is about when we play them in Portland.
“They can’t be taken lightly at all,” added Hegarty. “They’re a skilled team, they’re strong. We’re definitely going in there thinking it’s another game, not just an exhibition game.”
Maine hosts the University of New Hampshire in an important Hockey East game on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Alfond Arena so Black Bear coach Tim Whitehead intends to use tonight’s game to rest a few regulars like goalie Scott Darling. Whitehead also wants to give some players who haven’t seen much playing time valuable expe-rience.
Junior goalie Dave Wilson will make his first start since Nov. 21; redshirt freshman left wing Nick Payson will play in his first game since Nov. 15 and freshman defenseman Mark Nemec will make his first appearance since Oct. 11.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” said Nemec, who played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last year. “I’ve been working hard in practice. I’ve been working on a couple of things so, hopefully, I can put it to good use and make a good impression so I can get some [playing] time in the second half of the season. I’ve played pretty well in practice. The main thing is being consistent and showing that I belong.”
He understands that he has been caught in a numbers game and he said making the transition to Division 1 hockey has been a challenge.
“It has been at tremendous jump. We have a lot of good defensemen here who are playing very well defensively,” said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Nemec.
Goalie Wilson said he won’t be nervous when he makes his first start in over five weeks but he will be “anxious.
“It’s kind of tough going in there after five weeks off but I’m hoping we have the same outcome as last time,” said Wilson referring to a 19-save, 2-1 win over Merrimack College. “Hopefully, I’ll just play my game, make some big saves, our team will score some goals and we’ll come up with a win.”
Wilson beat the USA Under-18 team in Orono last year, 5-3, with a 20-save performance.
“They’ll be a very skilled team that will move the puck very well, especially down low, behind the net and in the corners,” said Wilson. “We’ve going to have to look out for that and play the defensive game we’ve played most of the year.”
He enjoys playing in Portland.
“It’s a good ice surface. We’ve played down there a couple of times now and we know their rink pretty well. We’re looking forward to going down there and having a good game and having some fun with the fans,” said Wilson.
Payson, a former Bangor High standout, said he has been “plugging away waiting for my time.
“Things are going really good right now. I just have to get in there [and prove myself] so I’m in there [more often],” said Payson, who has played in four games and is still looking for his first point.
Wilson said he likes the fact they are playing a game before Sunday’s matchup with archrival New Hampshire.
“It’s nice to have a little tune-up for New Hampshire rather than having a layoff after the Florida tournament [last weekend],” said Wilson.
“This could definitely give us some momentum for Sunday,” said senior defenseman Matt Duffy from Windham, who will be playing in front of a hometown crowd for the last time.
“I’ll have a bunch of family and friends going to the game,” said Duffy. “And there should be a good crowd. There will be a lot of people there who haven’t been able to see us in Orono. That’ll be great.”