ORONO, Maine — Mark Nemec doesn’t get his name on the score sheet very often.
It’s keeping opposing forwards off the score sheet that has been his primary concern.
The University of Maine’s redshirt freshman defenseman has done an impressive job of that as he and his Black Bear mates head into a two-game Hockey East series at Vermont this weekend.
“I’m really excited for him. He has evolved into a shutdown defensive defenseman,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He keeps things simple and takes a lot of pride in his defensive game. His skating has improved so much he can skate against anybody.”
In fact, Nemec and sophomore partner Ryan Hegarty are considered Maine’s most consistent defensive tandem by Whitehead.
“I just try to keep my game fairly simple,” said Nemec. “I see myself as a defensive defenseman. I’ll rush the puck when the occasion happens. My main focus is playing solid defensively and keeping guys to the outside.”
After sitting out last year as a redshirt, Nemec attended the Hybrid Skating camp in Wisconsin over the summer where he received instruction from four-time Olympic figure skater David Cruikshank and former NHLer Curtis Brackenbury.
“That definitely helped certain aspects of my game. I got back to essentials,” said Nemec.
“He worked real hard over the summer and it really shows in his skating and stickhandling,” said Hegarty. “Everyone knew he had potential and he has developed into a really good player. He has size and he uses it. He’s 6-foot-4 but he moves like he’s 6-foot.”
“He has become a real solid guy for them,” observed Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon.
Nemec, a native of Rouses Point, N.Y., packs 205 pounds on his frame and has also been a valuable penalty-killer.
“He’s playing great. He’s the kind of guy who will take hits to get the puck deep [into the offensive zone]. He has no fear out there,” said senior center David deKastrozza.
Nemec has had to deal with his share of adversity.
In the second game of the season, he broke his thumb and missed the next 10 games.
“I spent a lot of time on the [stationary] bike. I came back to school in pretty good shape and I wanted to maintain it,” said Nemec, who returned against UMass Lowell on Nov. 27 and helped the Bears carve out an impressive 3-1 road win.
Nemec, who has an assist in 12 games, played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs in the Eastern Junior Hockey League two years ago and considered last year a learning process as he practiced with the tea while being redshirted.
“We had a lot of good defensemen and I definitely picked up tips from some of them. And playing against our top line [Tanner House between Gustav Nyquist and Brian Flynn] definitely helps you get better,” said Nemec.
He said being paired with Hegarty has been beneficial.
“It seems like we’re jelling. We know where each other is most of the time and we have good chemistry,” said Nemec.
He’s glad he chose Maine, saying, “You couldn’t ask for a better place to play college hockey.”
He has been pleased with his play but said there’s a “lot of aspects I need to improve.
“I need to keep a better gap [between himself and opposing forwards] and I definitely need to work on reading plays in the [defensive] zone,” he said.
Two of his teammates, Theo Andersson and Kyle Solomon, will have added incentive this weekend.
Andersson is from Gothenburg, Sweden, as is UVM freshman center Sebastien Stalberg, brother of former Catamount Viktor Stalberg.
“We played together for two years and our families are friends, too,” said Andersson. “It’ll be nice to see him before and after the game and it will be fun to play against him. It’s going to be a battle. I Skyped with him last night. He’s ready to go. We’ve got friends back home who will be watching us.”
Solomon will return to the lineup after a groin injury and an infection have sidelined him for six of the last nine games.
“It’s been a roller coaster. I got the clearance from the internist today [Thursday],” said Solomon. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. You don’t know what kind of game shape you’re in until you get in a game but we’ve had high-tempo practices and I feel great.”