ORONO, Maine — It is every athlete’s goal to improve steadily.
University of Maine senior left wing Spencer Abbott could be the poster child for consistent development.
He followed a 16-point (7 goals, 9 assists) freshman season with a 28-point (9 & 19) sophomore year and a 40-point (17 & 23) junior campaign.
After a nine-point (5 & 4) weekend at Vermont, Abbott is well ahead of last year’s pace.
He has 10 & 13 in 14 games, which makes him the country’s No. 2 scorer in points per game (1.64). Colgate senior right wing Austin Smith leads the country at 1.69.
“It’s great to see,” said Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill. “He’s such a skilled player. He has an unbelievable shot. You know if he goes in on a breakaway, he’s going to bury the puck. His hands are as good as anybody’s and he’s so poised.”
University of New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said Abbott is a really good hockey player. “He can do it all. He works hard and he has great skills.”
Abbott, who has 7 & 8 in his last seven games, said, “I’ve learned a lot over the years. You try to get educated on the college hockey game. You learn what you need to know in order to produce in this league. Your hockey IQ changes over the years. I’ve done a good job learning from the older guys as I’ve moved up.”
One of the important lessons he has learned is to shoot the puck when you get the chance.
“I’ve always tried to get the mindset to shoot the puck more,” said Abbott. “I didn’t really do that my first two years here. I was looking to pass. You learn over the years that you need to shoot if you’re going to produce. Trying to force passes through seams don’t work most of the time.
“If you can get four, five, six, seven shots a game, you’re going to be in good shape.”
Abbott, who now has 107 career points (43 & 64) in 126 career games, said he had a productive summer working out with former NHL star Gary Roberts, who trains players during the summer in the Toronto area.
“It was good. There were a lot of NHL players there, probably 15-20. There were a couple of AHL guys and only a few college guys,” said Abbott. “He worked with me on getting my core and lower body strong. I put on 8 to 10 pounds, mostly in my legs and my butt. That’s the biggest thing in hockey: You need to have a strong lower body.”
Junior right wing and linemate Joey Diamond said it is evident that Abbott worked hard over the summer.
“He has gotten a lot better this year,” said Diamond. “He showed how skilled he really is this past weekend and how important he is to our team.”
Abbott, a native of Hamilton, Ontario, wasn’t highly recruited out of junior hockey even though he had 42 goals and 41 assists for the Hamilton Red Wings in 2007-2008.
“I talked to four other schools but Maine was the only school I visited. I had some other visits lined up but after watching a game at Maine, I [verbally] committed,” said Abbott.
He and linemates Diamond (6 & 4) and Brian Flynn (3 & 9) have combined for 16 goals and 21 assists in their last seven games.
“We’ve been playing really well. We’ve been doing the little things right,” said Abbott. “We’ve been able to generate a lot of five-on-five chances and power play chances.”
Do hockey players get into a zone like basketball players who have a hot hand?
“I’d have to say yes. You get more chances when you’re playing well. It just seems to come a little bit easier,” said Abbott, who hopes it continues Saturday night when Maine hosts Boston University.
Maine power play rolling
The University of Maine’s power play has converted on 11 of its last 22 chances and now has the nation’s sixth-best power-play percentage at 25 percent.
“We change it up during a game a lot more,” said Flynn. “We have a bunch of different looks. We’ve been shooting the puck a little more, too. We passed up shots earlier in the year.”
Abbott pointed out that opponents watch videotape of their power play and design their penalty kill to stop it.
“But when we switch it up, all the stuff they did all week to prepare for us doesn’t mean anything,” said Abbott.
Maine will sometimes switch personnel on its power-play units or rotate players to different spots. For example, Abbott has played both on the point and down low on the power play.
Abbott said because the players on the top unit have been on the power play for years, “we can ab-lib a little bit. We’ve had all kinds of different looks [throughout the years]. And coach (Tim Whitehead) harps on keeping it simple.”
“We’ve been distributing the puck well,” said O’Neill. “Everyone has been getting a lot of touches and that’s what keeps the opposition back on their heels a little bit.”
Diamond added, “We’ve been moving the puck faster and getting more shots on net.”