For University of Maine defensemen Ryan Hegarty and Nick Pryor and right wing Kevin Swallow, Saturday’s 7 p.m. exhibition game against the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team will be special.
That’s because they are all alums of the program, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and features the best players from the country in that age bracket.
“Every college team we played was a big game for us,” said sophomore Hegarty, whose trip to Orono in 2007 with the Under-18 team left a lasting impression.
“It was my first game against a college team so why not make it against Maine,” said Hegarty. “It was crazy. The fans were unbelievable. It made my commitment to Maine that much better.”
Hegarty swapped crunching body checks with hard-nosed Maine winger Rob Bellamy.
“It was a really fun game. He was giving me hits all night. I hope these guys come in here with the same intensity we did,” added Hegarty, whose team was beaten by Maine 5-3.
“Those guys will be ready to go. Every college team we played was a big game for us,” recalled Hegarty.
Swallow faced the Black Bears in 2003 when Maine triumphed 9-2.
“It was really exciting coming into an atmosphere like Maine’s,” said Swallow. “You look forward to it. You’re playing in front of college coaches in a college atmosphere. It’s a chance to show you can play against older, stronger guys. It’s always a challenge for them and they like it.”
Freshman Pryor played for the Under-18 team two seasons ago with Hegarty.
“It seems like yesterday when we were up here playing against Maine. It was our first game against a college team and nobody knew what to expect,” said Pryor. “You have to play hard against the college teams. It was fun to see what the college level was like.”
He said it was a high-priority game.
“When you see a big-name school like Maine on your schedule, you circle it. You look forward to them,” said Pryor.
The game also helped Pryor make up his mind to attend Maine after he had originally committed to Wisconsin.
“I already knew what Maine was all about because I had already played there. I knew what it was like to play in front of an Alfond Arena crowd,” said Pryor.
Pryor has friends on the team and knows the assistant coaches.
The three players said being involved in the National Team Development Program was a positive experience.
“I found it very helpful. It was a great experience,” said Swallow.
“I learned a ton,” said Hegarty. “It was a whole new experience for me off the ice and on the ice. I’m really happy I went there. I wouldn’t be the playing the way I am now if I hadn’t gone there.”
“I gained a lot of experience,” said Pryor. “We didn’t necessarily size up well against some of the college teams but as far as development is concerned, it helps you along the way.”
Even though it is just an exhibition game, the Maine players said it is an important game for them as they finish up with 12 consecutive Hockey East games, six at home and six on the road, beginning with the following weekend’s two-game set at Vermont.
“It’s a good chance for us to build some momentum and get some consistency before that last stretch of games,” said Swallow.
“It could be an important stepping stone for us. We want to play a complete game. After this, we have a pretty big grind in Hockey East,” said Hegarty.
“They won’t be as big and strong as us but they’ll have a good skill set and they can make plays. It’ll be a fun game just to see how they come out and how we come out against them,” said Pryor.
The Under-18 team head coach is no stranger to Alfond Arena. Kurt Kleinendorst was a forward at Providence College from 1979-83.