ORONO — Josh Van Dyk has shown consistent improvement during his four years along the blue line for the University of Maine men’s hockey team.
But he has been overshadowed by point-producing defensemen Will O’Neill and Jeff Dimmen.
Not any more.
“He has had a great year. He has very quietly emerged as an elite player for us,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, who will lead his Black Bears into tonight’s matchup at Boston University in a battle of nationally ranked teams. BU is third and Maine seventh.
“He has played clean defensive hockey and has contributed a lot on offense as well,” added Whitehead. “He is a physical presence without taking penalties and he has shown great courage. On the breakout, he’ll take a hit to make a play. He has great edges (on his skates) and can cut back and elude guys while other guys would get hit and pinned. He plays with his head up which enables him to see plays develop quicker than other guys. He moves the puck up the ice very quickly.”
“He has been playing great,” said senior Dimmen. “He looks faster out there and he has a lot of confidence.”
Van Dyk is currently Maine’s top-scoring defenseman with six assists in seven games.
“He definitely made crazy strides over the summer,” observed junior defenseman Ryan Hegarty. “He is faster and has been using his strength to his advantage.”
Van Dyk said he worked hard on his skating over the summer.
“I have always been a smooth skater, but I’ve never been fast,” said Van Dyk, who had a goal and 17 assists in 39 games last season. “That’s one thing I wanted to work on hard.”
He did a lot of legwork, including exercises designed to improve his explosiveness.
“I also wanted to strengthen them. I’m glad it’s paying off,” said Van Dyk.
“I have never seen him this good in my three years here,” said junior right wing Gustav Nyquist.
Freshman goalie Dan Sullivan said Van Dyk is “real strong on the puck. He’s very good at shielding it. He can just take the puck up the ice by himself.”
Van Dyk said he is playing with more confidence.
“Hopefully, you get better every year as you gain experience and with that comes confidence,” said Van Dyk, a native of Woodstock, Ontario.
He said that added confidence enables him to “make more plays under pressure. I’m stronger on the puck and, hopefully, I’ll keep getting better as the season goes along.”
One of the players Van Dyk and his defense partners will have to keep an eye on is dynamic BU junior defenseman David Warsofsky, BU’s leading scorer (2 goals, 7 assists). He is coming off a pair of 23-point seasons and had 12 goals a year ago.
“He’s one of the best defensemen in the country,” said Whitehead.
Warsofsky said the Terriers’ 6-0-1 start is a combination of “having a lot of new guys doing well and having the sophomores and juniors coming into their own.”
He said the Black Bears will present a challenge for them.
“They always have really skilled teams, so we’re going to have to play physical. We’ve got take them off their game. And we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box,” he said.