ORONO, Maine — One of the keys to the University of Maine men’s hockey team’s recent success has been the evolution of the sophomores.
Seven of them played in at least 24 games last year.
Left wing Spencer Abbott played in all 38 and his improvement has been important in Maine’s current 7-2-1 stretch heading into tonight’s Black Out Night game against Northeastern University.
He had a productive first season with seven goals and nine assists, but he already has four goals and nine assists in 16 games. He had a team-high six power-play goals while playing down low, but he has been moved to the point on the power play this year and has seven power-play assists.
Three came on perfectly executed slap passes to freshman Adam Shemansky, who re-directed the puck into the net.
Abbott and Shemansky are two of the reasons Maine has the nation’s fourth-best power-play percentage (26.5 percent).
“Spencer’s a smart player,” said Shemansky. “He has great poise at the point. He knows when to shoot and when to pass. He’s a real calming presence out there.”
“You have to make your decisions a lot quicker. Guys are rushing out at you,” said Abbott. “If you don’t make your decisions quicker, they’re going the other way on a breakaway. I try to see our sticks in front of the net and hopefully put a shot on one of them.”
Northeastern coach Greg Cronin said Abbott is a “cerebral player who makes plays.”
“He’s patient. He’ll wait until lanes open up [before he makes a pass]. And he’s very shifty,” added Cronin.
According to Maine coach Tim Whitehead, Abbott has put 10 pounds on his frame as the result of his training regimen over the summer and it has paid off.
“He worked very hard to become more of a complete player, and he has done that,” said Whitehead. “He is much more aware defensively and he’s stronger on the puck. He has tremendous poise and patience with the puck and now he has become more a complete player without the puck in regards to defense and anticipating where the puck might go.”
“I worked out four or five times a week over the summer beginning as soon as I got home. It was hockey-specific stuff. I also did a lot of eating, steak and potatoes and stuff like that,” Abbott said.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound native of Hamilton, Ontario, worked on his speed, too.
“You have to get to places where you can score — good ice in front of the net. If you aren’t strong, you can’t get to those places,” said Abbott, who has also focused on the defensive aspect of his game.
“Strong defense turns into offense,” said Abbott.
“He’s a lot stronger this year,” said senior center and linemate David deKastrozza. “He had a little problem getting pushed off the puck last year, but this year, he’s out-muscling a lot of guys.”
Goalie Scott Darling noted that Abbott has “one of the best one-timers I’ve ever seen.”
Abbott has been happy with his season to date.
“I’ve played pretty well. Hopefully, I’ll keep it going and put more points up,” said Abbott, who, like the rest of his mates, will be wearing a new black jersey tonight.
Fans are also encouraged to wear black.
“It’s one of our most important games of the season,” said Abbott.