ORONO, Maine — Role players are essential to success in any sport.
They often have to alter their games and sacrifice their individual statistics to help the team in other ways.
Freshmen Stu Higgins and John Parker have emerged as valuable role players for the University of Maine men’s hockey team.
Higgins centers a line between sophomore Mark Anthoine and junior Matt Mangene that usually is matched up against the other team’s top scoring line.
Parker has played right wing on a variety of lines and was with Adam Shemansky and Kyle Beattie in Saturday night’s 7-1 win over Northeastern.
The previous night, Parker had been with Theo Andersson and Jon Swavely.
Parker wound up double-shifting after Maine defenseman Mike Cornell was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for a contact-to-the-head infraction at the 9:10 mark of the second period.
Mangene moved back to defense to fill Cornell’s spot so Parker took Mangene’s right-wing slot while also playing his regular shift with Andersson and Swavely.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said Higgins and Parker have been “very consistent.”
“They bring it to every practice and every game which is unusual for freshmen. Freshmen are usually up and down,” said Whitehead. “They have done a great job defensively and they have chipped in offensively. They both kill penalties and they’re tough. They aren’t afraid to get their noses in there [in the high-traffic areas].”
He added that it is also unusual for freshmen to be consistently responsible defensively like they have been.
Parker, who is one of the team’s fastest skaters, has played in 26 games, including the last 14, and had three goals and three assists. Higgins has appeared in 32 of Maine’s 33 games with three goals and an assist.
“Coming here as a freshman and getting an opportunity to play is great,” said Parker, who has two goals and two assists in his last 10 games. “But it comes down to doing your job.”
Parker said he and Higgins know their responsibilities and have made sure they fulfill them.
“We get pucks deep [into the offensive zone], get in there on the forecheck, get into the corners and get gritty,” said Parker. “Everyone has been contributing. It helps.
”I’m not putting up the numbers I would like but the team is doing well and that’s all that really matters,” added Parker. “For [Higgins and me], our biggest role is killing penalties and we’re pretty good at it. Even though we may not have a lot of points, we can contribute in other areas.”
Higgins expected to be in this role.
“I knew I’d have to do certain things to be in the lineup consistently like kill penalties and things like that,” he said. “Obviously, I’d like to keep trying to further my role as I get older and move on but, right now, I need to do what needs to be done and what the team needs.”
Whitehead hasn’t hesitated to put Higgins on the ice in the last minute of a one-goal game to take a faceoff or help Maine protect the lead.
“Coach Whitehead has shown a lot of trust in me right from the get-go and that has been a huge part of why I’ve done well,” said Higgins.
He takes pride in faceoffs because he knows how important they are.
“They are definitely a huge factor. Faceoffs are one of the things we’ve controlled in our wins and not controlled in our losses,” said Higgins. “I want to continue to get better at them. I’ve won some important ones and I want to keep that going.”
He said he considers his line to be more of a “shutdown line” than checking line.
“With Matt Mangene, he’s always going to apply pressure [with his speed],” explained Higgins. “The best defense is applying pressure and trying to be offensive.”
Higgins and Parker were former rivals in the United States Hockey League and have a mutual respect.
Parker didn’t show any ill effects of his Friday night double-shifting in Saturday’s game.
“It’s pretty tough but the on-ice and off-ice training with [strength and conditioning coach Terry O’Neill] really helped. You just have to grind it out, go deep within and get the job done,” said Parker.
Seeley makes rare appearance
Maine senior goaltender Josh Seeley from Howland played in his first game (excluding exhibitions) since March 15, 2009, on Saturday night.
Seeley played the final 4:25 of the win over Northeastern and stopped the only shot he faced.
The popular former Bangor High and Kents Hill goalie hadn’t played since Maine’s 6-2 loss in the third game of its Hockey East quarterfinal series at Boston University in 2009.
“I was a little nervous at first,” said Seeley. “Coach [Whitehead] told me at the five-minute mark I’d be going in at the next whistle. Right after he said that, there was an icing and I went in.”
Senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty gave Seeley a little pep talk.
“He told me, ‘Just make the first save and we’ll do the rest,” said Seeley.
Twenty-two seconds later, Northeastern went on the power play and Seeley made a nice save on a one-timer.
“The guys made it pretty easy for me,” said Seeley. “It was pretty fun.”
“I was really glad he got to play,” said senior left wing Theo Andersson. “He’s a great guy. It’s nice to have him around. He’s here for every practice and every workout.”
“Everybody was giving [him a hard time] after the game,” said Parker. “Everyone was laughing. It was great for him and great for all of us.”