Until this season, University of Maine senior defenseman Matt Duffy has had an up-and-down career.
The Windham native has shown flashes of brilliance but he has also had some poor performances that have cost him ice time.
But Duffy has been a model of consistency this season and has played a major role in the youthful Bears’ surprising 10-6-2 record to date.
One of the highlights of his career was a game-winning, one-timer against New Hampshire in Manchester, N.H. on Feb. 2, 2007. He would love to replicate that feat Sunday when the Black Bears and Wildcats renew their rivalry at 4 p.m. at Alfond Arena in Orono.
That represents Maine’s only win over UNH in their last seven meetings.
“I still remember that goal. [Michel] Leveille gave the puck to me and my shot went past the goalie’s glove,” said Duffy, whose shot beat Kevin Regan.
Duffy enters Sunday’s game leading current Black Bears in career goals with 17.
“That doesn’t surprise me, the way he can shoot the puck back there. When he winds up to take a one-timer in practice, you get out of the way,” said senior right wing and co-captain Jeff Marshall. “It’s pretty incredible the way he can put the puck on net and be accurate with his shot. It’s turned into a lot of goals for him.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said Duffy has done a “great job elevating his game this season. He has been a lot more consistent. He has played with a lot of composure and poise and has become a great defender. He has played with more intensity defensively.”
UNH coach Dick Umile said Duffy has been a steady mainstay for the Bears.
“He’s been solid for them. It seems like he’s been there 10 years,” said Umile. “He’s a good hockey player. He plays both ends of the ice.”
Whitehead said Duffy’s off-ice training during the off-season has paid dividends for him and Duffy agrees.
“I did a lot of work on my foot-speed and hand-eye coordination,” said Duffy, who has three goals and three assists in 18 games this season with all three goals coming in his last six games.
“I trained with a bunch of other college and AHL guys in Portland and that helped me to push myself,” said Duffy. “I put in extra work. I was able to skate at the rink in Yarmouth three times a week. I never did that before. That really helped me get into on-ice shape.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Duffy said in past summers, he would have been able to skate just once a week.
He said the difference can be shown in his consistency.
“I’d been inconsistent the last few years but I’ve focused on being consistent this year…. on making safe and easy plays. That has made me a better hockey player,” said the 22-year-old Duffy.
“I’ve been pretty happy with the way I’ve played so far and I want to keep it going so we can make the [Hockey East and NCAA] playoffs,” added Duffy, who has worked a lot on releasing his shots quicker and putting them on net.
“He is really coming into his own,” said Maine sophomore defenseman Josh Van Dyk. “He came in stronger. He was one of the top guys in our fitness testing as far as improvement and setting personal bests.
“He’s mentally focused. He’s a senior who wants to make an impact on the team. He’s been a great leader on and off the ice,” Van Dyk added.
Freshman defenseman Ryan Hegarty called Duffy an “unsung hero.
“He’s solid every night. He’s smart. He knows where to be positionally and he has a great shot from the point,” said Hegarty. “Between watching video and practice, he puts time into making sure we all know what to do. He has been really helpful to us.”
Duffy, who plays in all situations and was even used as a forward in previous seasons, has taken on an even more important role with the ankle injury suffered by senior co-captain Simon Danis-Pepin.
But he is quick to point out that sophomore defensemen Jeff Dimmen and Mike Banwell have stepped into leadership roles, also.
The UNH game will be an important one, according to Duffy.
“That game will mean a lot to us. It should be a great game,” said Duffy, who has enjoyed his three-plus seasons at Maine.
“It has been great. I’ve made a lot of good friends and the coaches have helped me out a lot,” said Duffy, a fourth-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers (105th overall] in 2005.
There are limited tickets available and they will go on sale one hour before the game at the box office.