The University of Maine men’s hockey team has received two verbal commitments, although one of the two players could opt to sign a Major Junior contract.
Cam Brown, a 5-foot-6, 135-pound playmaking center from Natick, Mass., will attend Maine beginning in the fall of 2011, but 5-foot-11 defenseman Stephen Gillard has a 48-hour tryout with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League next week and will decide his future following the camp.
If Gillard honors his verbal commitment to Maine, he would also begin his collegiate career in 2011.
“I want to pick the best route for me. I just want to play the highest level of hockey I can,” said Gillard, who had two goals and 10 assists in 21 games for the St. John’s Fog Devils in Midget AAA in his native Newfoundland last season.
“[After the tryouts], I’ll talk to the [Halifax] coaches and see what kind of offer I get,” said Gillard.
If he decides to sign with Halifax, he will lose his college eligibility because players in Canada’s three Major Junior leagues — the QMJHL, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League — receive financial stipends which makes them professionals in the eyes of the NCAA.
Gillard said he was impressed with Maine and received a lot of positive feedback from former Black Bear standout and Hockey East Rookie of the Year Teddy Purcell, who is now with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.
“Teddy Purcell had a lot of good things to say about it,” said Gillard. “They have an elite hockey program and I can also get an education.”
Brown said he was excited about attending Maine.
“I can’t wait [to play at Maine]. The tradition and the history of the hockey program is unbelievable and the fans are unbelievable,” said Brown. “And I went up there for a visit and I loved everything about it.”
Brown played for the Boston Advantage Under-18 split-season Midget AAA team as well as the Rivers School in Weston, Mass., last season.
He had nine goals and 21 assists for the Boston Advantage and was tied for second in scoring. He was the Rivers School’s leading scorer.
Brown will play for the full-season Boston Advantage team this season. The team will play in the Tier I Elite League along with several of the best Midget AAA teams in the nation.
Brown was coached by former Black Bear Tim Lovell, who is the coach and general manager of the Advantage.
“He was a big influence on me. He helped me out a ton,” said Brown. “He gave me a lot of little tips. This new league is unreal. It’s going to be great competition.”
Lovell could not be reached for comment but told the Maine Hockey Journal that Brown is a “playmaker but he does score goals and he plays great defense, which is very rare. He’s one of the best kids I’ve seen around here in a long time.”
Gillard and Brown coming to Maine is contingent upon their acceptance into the school and meeting NCAA eligibility requirements.
If Gillard elects to go the Major Junior route, he would be one of several recent recruits who verbally committed to Maine but changed their minds and accepted Major Junior offers. They include Austin Watson (Windsor, OHL), Brandon Francisco (Sarnia, OHL) and Kevin Gagne (Saint John, QMJHL).
Maine has also landed several players who rejected Major Junior overtures like Purcell, Andrew Sweetland and defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said they will continue to recruit head-to-head against Major Junior teams as well as other college teams.
“College hockey is getting younger and it’s important for us to attract elite players if we’re going to compete on the national level,” said Whitehead, who noted that more than 100 U.S.-born players played Major Junior hockey last season.
“That is an indication of how small our pool [of elite players] has become,” said Whitehead.