ORONO, Maine — Gustav Nyquist was a ray of light in an otherwise gloomy season for the University of Maine hockey team last season.
He led Hockey East freshmen with 13 goals and he also had 19 assists in 38 games. He was the first freshman to lead the Bears in scoring since a young man from North Vancouver, British Columbia, arrived on the scene at the outset of the 1992-93 season: Hobey Baker Award winner Paul Kariya.
After Nyquist was held scoreless in the season-opening 4-1 loss at Union College, the 2008-2009 Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection has racked up four goals and two assists in the last three games and had the game-winner in the 5-3 victory over Michigan State Saturday night.
Nyquist and his mates open Hockey East play this weekend when they visit Massachusetts in Amherst on Friday night and New Hampshire on Saturday evening.
“They should be two exciting games,” said Nyquist, a right winger who enjoys the wider Olympic-size ice sheets he will be playing on this weekend.
Olympic-sized ice sheets are the norm in Sweden.
“I’m used to the smaller rinks now but the Olympic sheets are a lot of fun to play on,” said the Malmo, Sweden, native. “You have a lot more room to make moves on. There’s more room behind the net so you can make plays. And you can use your points [defensemen] more. You can also have some different looks on the power play.”
Nyquist said it will be important for the Bears to play “between the [faceoff] dots” so they don’t get running around out of position.
Nyquist is looking to have an even more productive year this season and feels he is a better player thanks to his familiarity with the opponents and the rinks and his diligent summer training program.
“I’ve got more muscle weight. I want to be able to shake defenders off and beat them wide instead of having to dangle the puck between the skates [and then try to go around them],” said Nyquist. “I want to be able to push them away with one hand and keep the other hand on my stick.
“I’m a little faster this year because I’ve improved my leg strength. And my shot is better. I’ve worked on that a lot, too,” he added.
He intends to shoot the puck more after averaging a little more than three shots a game last season.
“I didn’t shoot enough last year. I want to improve on that. There are a couple guys on the team, including me, that should have at least five shots on goal per game. In order to have a better chance to score, we need to shoot more,” he said.
Sophomore left wing and linemate Brian Flynn said Nyquist has a lot more confidence this season.
“He has a great shot and, hopefully, after scoring that goal [game-winner] against Michigan State, it will give him even more confidence to keep on shooting,” Flynn said.
Nyquist will be a marked man, as he was last year, because opponents are aware of his prowess.
“He’s really good. I like him a lot,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “He is a highly skilled player who plays hard and plays with passion. He’s dangerous at all times.”
UMass coach Don Cahoon called him a “great player.
“He has great hockey sense and vision. He also plays with grit and competitiveness. He has the ability to make a play and put the puck away.”