ORONO – Mike Cornell isn’t flashy. He is the consummate defense-minded defenseman.
But he has also proved to be Mr. Versatile for the University of Maine’s hockey team this season.
The sophomore has seen quite a bit of duty at right wing and you could see him play both wing and defense in the same game depending upon the needs of coach Tim Whitehead.
“Mike has been very consistent,” said Whitehead. “With all of our injuries, he has emerged as a very valuable player for us.
“He brings a strong physical presence and great energy to the team,” added Whitehead. “He’s an excellent penalty-killer and he gets under the opponents’ skins without taking penalties.”
Whitehead also said he is the epitome of a team player.
“He never complains and he brings a tremendous effort to every game. He doesn’t care about goals and assists. He just wants to keep the puck out of our net (and help the team win),” said Whitehead.
Maine senior center and captain Tanner House said Cornell does all the little things.
“He keeps things simple and he works hard,” he said. “He plays the body and is tough to play against whether he’s at forward or on defense.”
Senior defenseman Josh Van Dyk called Cornell a “leader” and a reliable defenseman who is “easy to play with. He’s easy to read. He communicates well. He has a great personality. He doesn’t get down. He boosts you up.”
Cornell said juggling positions has been a bit of a “roller coaster” but his teammates and coaches have helped him make the transition and he has learned a lot.
“I kind of like it. It has helped me at both ends of the ice,” said Cornell. “From playing up front, I have gained more confidence with the puck. You handle the puck more as a forward. I’m also more aware of where forwards are going to go so that helps when I play defense.”
“He’s a good, hard-working kid. He’s really competitive and he’s a real team player. He’ll block shots and take hits to make a play,” said Providence College coach Tim Army, whose Friars will meet the Bears in Orono on Friday night. Maine will host Boston College on Sunday night.
Army met Cornell through the recruiting process.
Cornell’s home in Franklin, Mass., is a 20-minute drive from the Providence campus and he spent four years attending Mt. St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket, R.I.
“I’ve been to a lot of games there (PC’s Schneider Arena), including when Maine played there,” said Cornell. “It’s always nice when we play Providence. I’ve got some buddies on their team.”
Cornell was a recruited walk-on last season and had three assists in 26 games.
He earned a partial scholarship for this season and has a goal and four assists in 17 games.
“He has been a very important guy for us,” said Maine junior right wing Gustav Nyquist. “He plays the body and, what a lot of people don’t know, is he has a real good shot.”
“I think I’ve taken a step up from last year to this year and I want to take another step next year and another the year after. There is a lot of room for improvement in my game,” said Cornell, who played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs and the South Shore Kings of the New England Junior Hockey League before coming to Maine.
He is pleased with his development.
“So far, so good. I’m thankful for the opportunity,” said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Cornell.
He has always been a physical player “because I’m an undersized defenseman so you have to play bigger. When you go up to the next level, you have to bring something to the table.”
Like his mates, Cornell is eager to rebound from the humbling 7-1 loss at Merrimack College last Saturday.
“We’re all accountable for last weekend and we’ve got to get back on track. We’re chomping at the bit to play again,” said Cornell.