The University of Maine won’t gain the services of United States National Team Development Program Under-17 goaltender Matt McNeely in two years.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound McNeely, a native of Burnsville, Minn., verbally committed to Maine a year ago but changed his mind and will attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth beginning with the 2011-2012 season.
In a story in the Duluth News Tribune, McNeely said he wanted to play closer to home.
“I hadn’t been away [from home] for an extended time until I came to Ann Arbor [Mich.] this year and that opened my eyes. I liked the idea of going to school in Minnesota, playing in the WCHA and being with a good program like UMD,” McNeely told the Tribune.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead took the news in stride.
“Unfortunately, commitments are happening so early nowadays,” said Whitehead. “He’s a great kid from a great family. He committed to us after his sophomore year in high school because we were about the first ones to see he was a diamond in the rough and he appreciated that.
“He told us being away from his family made him realize how important his family was to him. I fully understood.” added Whitehead. “We would have loved to have had him but there’s nothing more important in anyone’s life than family. He made a great decision. We’ll find a replacement. With our tradition of goaltending and the strong team we’ve rebuilt, we feel confident we can attract another goaltender to fill his spot.”
Starting goalie Scott Darling is only a sophomore and one of his backups is a freshman, Shawn Sirman. The other is senior Dave Wilson.
“It isn’t a pressing situation right now. We’ll adapt. [Assistants] Bob [Corkum] and Dan [Kerluke] have attracted some great recruits,” added Whitehead.
Sawyer ice is popular
The University of Maine has a handful of practices at Bangor’s Sawyer Arena each year when their Alfond Arena is being used for basketball.
And Whitehead said he considers the ice at Sawyer Arena to be “the best surface I’ve ever been on in North America.
“It’s hard, it’s fast and it doesn’t get real snowy. It’s smooth. There aren’t any bumps in the ice like you find in other rinks,” said Whitehead. “Usually, if the ice is hard, it chips. If it’s soft, it gets ruts in it. This ice is fantastic. Joe Nelson and his staff do a great job. We love coming down here. We know we’re going to have a quality practice. We can go an hour and a half without resurfacing. At Alfond, we have to get the Zamboni out after half an hour.”
Whitehead added, “Every time we practice here, we look like a million bucks because we’ve got a very skilled team this year and it’s great to see the guys moving pucks around.”
Senior center Brett Carriere and senior right wing David deKastrozza also enjoy skating at Sawyer.
“It’s in my top 10, definitely,” said Carriere. “It’s rock hard, it’s quick and it’s real nice to play on. It’s actually incredible. For whatever reason, they keep it just perfect.”
“It’s definitely good ice. It’s cold out there but it’s good,” said deKastrozza.
Walsh story is rated third
The College Hockey News Web site considered the death of former University of Maine hockey coach Shawn Walsh as the third most significant college hockey story of the decade.
College hockey’s talent boom and drain was chosen the top story as it noted that there are more college players coming from new regions like California and fewer from former hotbeds like Massachusetts.
The second most popular story chosen by the CHN staff was the expansion of the NCAA Tournament from 12 to 16 teams in 2002 and the NCAA’s hockey tournament committee’s decision to adhere to the Pairwise rankings for choosing tournament teams.
The fourth most important story was the new arenas built at Denver, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Boston College and rounding out the top five was the landscape change in college hockey as several teams either switched or were added to leagues, and the demise of College Hockey America, which will end after this season.
The story chosen sixth was the evolution of the Frozen Four and its 10 sellouts; seventh was the return of former Lake Superior State coach Jeff Jackson to college hockey (Notre Dame) after working for the U.S. National Team Development Program; eighth was the outdoor game at Michigan State’s Spartan Stadium between MSU and archrival Michigan that attracted a record 74,544 fans; ninth was Bemidji State becoming the first school from College Hockey America or Atlantic Hockey to reach the Frozen Four and 10th was the retirement of former Michigan State coach Ron Mason, who won a record 924 games.
Corkum and Kerluke played for Walsh, and said he deserves to be recognized for the job he did at Maine. Walsh built Maine into a two-time NCAA champion (1993 and 1999) and posted a career record of 399-215-4.
“I’m obviously biased. He should be the number one story for what he did with Maine hockey and building it into a power,” said Corkum. “His tireless work ethic, his ability to recruit and his ability to surround himself with great assistant coaches like Bruce Crowder, Jay Leach and Grant Standbrook, to name a few, [were legendary]. He really knew how to talk to people.”
“He got the most out of his players and raised the bar for college hockey and Hockey East in particular,” said Corkum who had a long and productive NHL career after he played at Maine.
“He built a national power from nothing,” said Kerluke. “Given our geographic location and the difficult in recruiting, it’s amazing. I still don’t know how he pulled it off. It’s one of the best stories of all time.”