With two disappointing 13-win seasons behind it and four veterans unavailable, the University of Maine men’s hockey team hopes to begin its turnaround with a lineup full of freshmen and sophomores when it visits Union College (N.Y.) of the ECAC Hockey League tonight to open a two-game series.
Defenseman Ryan Hegarty and goalie Scott Darling, both sophomores, are serving suspensions for violating the school’s Student-Athlete Code of Conduct last spring. They were involved in separate incidents with Hegarty receiving a three-game suspension and Darling getting a two-game banishment.
Darling was assessed a one-game suspension a year ago or missing a workout.
Sophomore center and captain Tanner House will be sidelined for two to three weeks with a leg injury and senior left wing Kevin Swallow will be out for three to four weeks with a shoulder injury, according to Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
That means Maine’s nine first-year players are all likely to see playing time.
“The bottom line is that this will be great for our team,” said Whitehead, who is starting his ninth season at Maine. “This will be a great challenge. Without our captain and three other of our best players, this will be an opportunity for the other guys to prove they can help the team now.”
Junior left wing Robby Dee said Maine’s freshmen are really good players.
“They have played well. They’ve listened to the older guys and have followed us pretty well. This gives them more of an opportunity to show us what they can do,” he said.
“This will give them experience before we start playing Hockey East games in a couple of weeks,” said senior center David deKastrozza. “I think we’ll be fine. We have a couple of key guys out but we have the manpower to win.”
Winger Matt Mangene and center Kyle Beattie, who played for New Hampshire in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last year, will be two of the freshmen in the lineup. They said they’re looking forward to starting their college careers.
The freshmen got a preview of college hockey last Sunday during the team’s annual Blue-White scrimmage.
“We have a strong freshman class and we’re all excited to get going,” said Mangene. “The Blue-White game gave us a lot of confidence. The speed and the physical presence [of a regular-season game] were there.”
Beattie added, “That showed us what it might be like and I think we all did pretty well.”
Several Maine veterans said their performance in the Hockey East quarterfinals, in which they extended eventual national champion Boston University to three games with a 6-3 second-game win, gave them confidence entering the season.
“I’m very excited about the year,” said sophomore right wing Gustav Nyquist.
“I think we’re going to score a lot more goals, our team defense should be better and all the goalies have looked good in practice and they’re all fighting for the number one job. That helps them improve in every practice.” added Nyquist, an All-Hockey East Rookie Team selection last year.
The Dutchmen are coming off consecutive winning seasons for the first time since they moved up to Division I in the 1991-92 season. Last year’s 19 wins was a record.
Seventh-year head coach Nate Leaman, a former Old Town High School and University of Maine assistant, has directed the Dutchmen to 15-14-6 and 19-17-3 seasons and has a group of forwards “that is as deep as any we’ve had since I’ve been here.” Goalie Corey Milan has returned but three talented defensemen have left.
Union College doesn’t offer athletic scholarships while Maine has the full complement of 18 allowed by the NCAA.
Maine swept Union in Orono 3-1 and 5-1 last season.
“With Maine’s tradition, having them come to our building is huge for our program and the school,” said Leaman. “Our transition from offense to defense will have to be poised and good. Maine will get four guys involved in the rush. They scored a couple of goals like that last year. They also scored three faceoff goals so we have to do a better job on faceoffs.”