There was a time when the University of Maine men’s hockey team used its exhibition games against the University of New Brunswick to sharpen its offensive skills.
Lopsided scores were the norm.
But the Varsity Reds have become a national champion under Gardiner MacDougall, sandwiching Canadian titles in 2007 and 2009 around a runner-up finish in 2008.
And that is good news for the Black Bears.
You are much better off playing a team that is at least as good as you, if not better, than you are blowing out an inferior opponent.
If anything, you pick up bad habits in a lopsided victory. Everybody becomes offensive-minded. Defense becomes an afterthought.
And you aren’t going to win many Hockey East games by allowing defense to become an afterthought.
Playing a quality opponent like UNB or the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team, Saturday night’s Black Bear opponent, emulates a Hockey East game without impacting your record.
That means you have the opportunity to try different line combinations, different people on the special teams, different strategies, etc…
Canadian college players are usually older than their American counterparts because they are allowed to play college hockey in Canada after having a pro career.
So many of them have more experience than U.S. collegians and, because they’re older, they’re more mature physically.
The Under-18s are obviously younger but they are among the top players in their age group in the country and they will be highly-skilled and fast.
The Under-18 players are anxious to showcase their talents against college teams because the games have scouts on hand and the scouts are anxious to see how the U.S. players perform against older college players.
That impacts their draft position.
And if there are Under-18 players who haven’t committed to a college, this gives them a chance to earn a scholarship.
So whether you are playing the University of New Brunswick or the Under-18s, the battles for loose pucks will be just an intense as they would be in a Hockey East game.
Remember, these players are competitors and whether it’s playing ping-pong against a sibling at Christmas time or playing an exhibition hockey game, you always want to win.
The Canadian college ideology of allowing professional athletes play has some merit.
The NCAA doesn’t allow it but, in one way, it does.
You simply can’t play a sport in which you have been paid.
Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge played professional baseball while he was playing basketball at Brigham Young University.
He is one of many examples.
College hockey is missing out on tons of talented players because youngsters decide to play Major Junior A hockey for which they receive a stipend.
They often decide to go the Major Junior route before NCAA guidelines allow a college coach to even talk to him.
Some kids become disenchanted with Major Junior but playing at a U.S. college isn’t an option any more.
They can petition to play U.S. college hockey. However, even if they win, they still have to sit out a full year plus the number of games they appeared in.
So if they played in 30 games, that’s like two full seasons.
Why not just leave it at a year? That’s a long enough penance for a decision a player made, or his parents made for him, when he was a teenager.