ORONO, Maine — University of Maine freshman left winger Connor Leen knew something was wrong soon after arriving on the Orono campus this summer to take classes and work out with his teammates.
“I ended up in bed, feeling real sick and not wanting to eat,” said Leen, who eventually lost 20 pounds during his ordeal. “I was traumatized at first.”
The diagnosis was Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease with a variety of symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss.
He is taking daily medication as well as receiving an injection every two weeks and said that the medications have “really helped me.”
He estimated that it took him two months to regain his weight and strength and he feels “great” these days.
“I watch what I eat although I can eat pretty much anything I want,” said Leen.
The highlight of his season came Saturday night when he broke a 4-4 tie with his first collegiate goal and point to lead Maine to a 7-4 triumph over Boston College and a sweep of their weekend series.
He described it as the biggest moment in his life but he was also relieved.
“Getting that first goal took a big load off my shoulders,” said Leen who hopes to continue to provide needed scoring depth to the Maine lineup.
“For a freshman to score a goal late in the game and show that kind of poise is huge for us,” said Maine junior right wing Matt Mangene, who had his first collegiate hat trick in the win.
“He has worked hard in the weight room. He is eating healthy and I’m glad to see him full strength again,” said freshman right wing and linemate John Parker.
“He looks great right now,” said freshman center Stu Higgins. “He has put on even more weight than he had coming in before the illness. I think we’re going to see a lot more from him.”
Leen has played in 17 of Maine’s 23 games and hopes to continue improving.
“I want to be in the lineup every night and do my part to win games,” said Leen.
Leen wasn’t the only freshman who contributed to the sweep.
Parker wound up double-shifting for the final 26:45 of Saturday’s game after defenseman Mike Cornell was assessed a five-minute major for hitting from behind and a game misconduct.
Mangene was moved back to defense and Parker took Mangene’s right-wing slot on a checking line with Higgins and Mark Anthoine.
“We doubled [Parker] up because he can skate. He was tremendous,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.
Parker also skated with his regular line comprised of Leen and Jon Swavely.
Andrew Cerretani was the right wing on a line with juniors Adam Shemansky and Kyle Beattie, and Beattie and Shemansky each had an even-strength goal in Friday’s 4-3 overtime win. Shemansky also had a power-play goal.
And Scarborough defenseman Jake Rutt was solid along the blue line in both games.
The Anthoine-Higgins-Parker line kept BC’s top line of Chris Kreider-Bill Arnold-Paul Carey off the scoreboard and they held them to just five shots on goal. Maine’s defense tandem of Ryan Hegarty and Mark Nemec was also assigned to that line and excelled.
That line had a combined 33 goals.
“It was a hard job,” said Parker. “They’re really good. They’re elite players. They’re hard to stop down low. They’re all over 200 pounds and they move their feet to make plays. You have to have your head on a swivel. You have to always know where they are.”
Higgins said every shift was a battle.
“I just tried to stick with my guy so he didn’t get an easy pass,” he said.
“And I tried to shadow him in the corner so he wouldn’t get to an open space. The other guys took care of the slot.
“A lot of the time I had Arnold and he weighs about 220. I’m 5-8, 165. It was a bit of a mismatch but I feel I did a good job,” he added.
Mangene said the freshmen are making vital contributions.
“Connor scored a nice goal and Parker got his first goal last weekend [against Merrimack]; Cerretani is getting tons of chances and he has been playing great; Jake has been doing a great job on defense and Stu has been doing a great job centering the second line and killing penalties,” said Mangene.
BC freshman enjoyed Alfond
Boston College freshman goalie Brian Billett, who moved to Brunswick in seventh grade, said Saturday night’s game against Maine in front of 5,098 enthusiastic fans at Alfond Arena was “pretty overwhelming.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Billett, who made 28 saves and allowed five goals in the loss. “I obviously would have liked to have gotten a win out of it. There’s a first time for everything and now I’m looking forward to coming back again.”
He remembers playing at Alfond Arena in youth hockey and watching his first Maine game in eighth grade.
“It’s one thing coming up here to watch a game and hearing the crowd. But when they’re right on top of you [heckling you], it’s a new ball game. They never give up [heckling you],” grinned Billett.