University of Maine junior defenseman Ryan Hegarty spent two years in Michigan playing for the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-18 and U-17 squads. He was in Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan.
Hegarty will return to the Maine lineup and to Michigan this weekend after missing the first two games with a sprained ankle.
The 1-0-1 Black Bears will play Michigan State at Munn Arena tonight and Friday night. It is Homecoming weekend in East Lansing and the Spartans will be playing their first two regular-season games after a 5-3 exhibition game loss to Western Ontario.
Michigan State and Maine split 5-3 decisions in Orono last October.
Hegarty is looking forward to making his 2010-2011 debut and said his ankle is “pretty much 100 percent right now.
“It’ll be fun,” said Hegarty. “Ann Arbor is about an hour away. I’ve got some people coming (to see me play). It’ll be a little special.”
Two of the people who will be making the trip to East Lansing will be Gene and Sue Salaniuk, who housed him when he was in Ann Arbor.
Hegarty has never played at Munn Arena.
“It’ll be a new experience,” he said.
Hegarty has lofty expectations for the season.
“I’m looking for a breakout year. Definitely,” said Hegarty. “I don’t think I’ve lived up to expectations. (In my first two years) I tried to avoid making mistakes. I was trying to get into the lineup for the wrong reasons. You’re going to make mistakes. The game is all about mistakes. Mistakes happen every five seconds. It’s what you do after them that matters.”
Hegarty played in 33 games a year ago and had a goal and seven assists. But he led the Black Bear defensemen in plus-minus with a plus-four.
A player receives a plus-one if he is on the ice when his team scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal and a minus-one if his team allows one.
He had three assists in 24 games during an injury-marred freshman season.
“By now, we all know I’m not an offensive threat. (Will) O’Neill and (Jeff) Dimmen take that. But I’m looking to breakout in my own way,” said Hegarty. “I want to be a go-to D (defensive) guy. I want to be out there in all situations, I want to be a good puck-moving defenseman and someone you can rely on on the PK (penalty-kill).”
Penalty-killing has been a weakness for the Bears as they allowed three power-play goals on 11 chances in their 8-2 win over UMass Lowell and 3-3 overtime tie with the University of Connecticut last weekend. They were 40th among 58 teams on the PK a year ago, killing off just 80.1 percent.
“He will give us a big lift, especially on the PK and eating up some serious minutes,” said junior defenseman O’Neill. “He’s a competitor. He came back to school in great shape. He’s an animal out there. He’s going to be a physical force and a great mainstay on the blue line for us.”
“He’s a really good penalty-killer,” said Maine junior left wing Spencer Abbott. “He blocks a lot of shots. He gets in the shooting lanes all the time and you need that.”
Abbott also said Hegarty is a “good skater and good puck-mover.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hegarty, a native of Arlington, Mass., had the chance to watch his teammates last weekend and had a couple of observations.
“The first night, we showed how powerful we can be and how dangerous we are. The second night we learned what can happen if we don’t come to play. It’s not that we didn’t play well. We did. But every shift counts and the difference between any teams at the Division I level is so slim that you can’t take a night off,” said Hegarty, a fourth-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks.
The series will also pit former Omaha Lancer teammates O’Neill and Maine sophomore right winger Joey Diamond against MSU junior goalie Drew Palmisano.
The Lancers won the United States Hockey League’s Anderson (regular season) and Clark (playoff) Cups in 2007-2008.
“He’s very athletic. He’s small (5-foot-10) but it doesn’t matter. He’s an unbelievable goalie,” said Diamond. “Shooting on him every day in practice made me better. We’re going to have to take his eyes away, do the little things right, get to the net and chip in some rebounds.
“I’m real excited to see him. He’s a great kid,” added Diamond.
“He never gets flustered,” said O’Neill. “He’s a terrific goalie and a real good competitor.”