ORONO — One of the players University of Maine junior defenseman Nick Pryor will have to stop in Saturday night’s NCAA Northeast Regional game against defending national champ Minnesota-Duluth will be Bulldogs right wing and leading goal-scorer J.T. Brown.
A lack of familiarity certainly won’t be an issue for Pryor.
“I’ve played with him almost my whole life,” said Pryor. “I’m good buddies with him. We played together in amateur squirts, peewees, summer teams and in the [United States Hockey League]. I know him really well.”
Both are natives of Minnesota.
Pryor, who is a junior, hails from Woodbury while Brown, a sophomore, is from Burnsville.
The towns are 23 miles apart. They both played for Waterloo in the USHL.
“He’s a great guy. He’s a hardworking guy who loves the game,” said Pryor. “He’s a really quick, explosive player. He can create a lot with his speed. He has good hands and sees the ice real well.”
Pryor has talked to Brown a couple of times during the season but not since they learned on Sunday they would be paired off against each other.
Pryor said he knows a lot of the other players also from playing with and against them growing up.
There are 18 Minnesota natives on the Minnesota-Duluth roster.
“It’ll be exciting,” said Pryor. “I played with him my whole life and now we’ll be playing against each other on a stage like this.”
UMD coach recalls Orono
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin recalled a visit to the University of Maine during the 1984-85 season.
Sandelin played for the University of North Dakota and the team was playing a two-game series in Orono in the first year of the interlocking schedule agreement between the Western College Hockey Association and the first-year Hockey East Association.
“We had a brawl during pregame [warmups] and some lady reached over the glass and grabbed my facemask. I thought I was going to have to whack her with my stick,” recalled a chuckling Sandelin. “The glass was real low.
“It was fun,” added Sandelin, who graduated from North Dakota in 1986.
Sandelin thoroughly enjoyed the interlocking schedule.
“I loved it. It was great,” said Sandelin. “We got out East four times my senior year. It’s fun to see different teams and it was great for college hockey to do that.
“The only thing I didn’t like was I didn’t get to keep the frequent flyer miles,” he quipped.
Thanks to those experiences, Sandelin is a proponent of a diversified nonleague schedule.
Minnesota-Duluth played a pair of games at Providence this season, played two at Clarkson of the ECAC last year, played in the Catamount Cup Tournament at the University of Vermont in the 2009-2010 season and visited UMass Lowell for a pair in 2007-2008.
“I think it’s great for our guys to experience that — seeing the different leagues, different teams and different areas,” said Sandelin, who is in his 12th season as the head coach at Minnesota-Duluth and guided the Bulldogs to their first NCAA championship last season.
Sandelin happy with season
Sandelin has been pleased with his team, which will bring a 24-9-6 record into the Maine game.
“Obviously, to get back to the NCAA Tournament, you have to have a pretty good year,” said Sandelin. “I didn’t expect to score as many five-on-five goals with what we lost. We lost a lot of guys who were positive contributors including a couple of difference-makers.”
The Bulldogs have scored 102 even-strength goals to go with 39 power-play goals and a shorthander.
The Bulldogs lost their second- and third-leading scorers in Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly along with top-scoring defenseman Justin Faulk but their 102 even-strength goals are 16 more than they scored all of last year.
Jack Connolly, younger brother of Boston University center Chris Connolly, was the center between Fontaine and Connolly last year and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
Despite having two new linemates, he has just one fewer point (19 & 39) than he had last year when he racked up 18 & 41.
He has played most of the year with Mike Seidel (17 & 13) and either Joe Basaraba (7 & 9) or Keegan Flaherty (7 & 4).
“Jack has had a tremendous year. I don’t think people give him enough credit,” said Sandelin. “To follow up what he did last year without [Fontaine and Mike Connolly] tells you what kind of player he is. Nothing bothers him. He just plays.”
He feels his Bulldogs and the Black Bears are similar.
“Both teams have a good line, the defense corps are similar. It will be a very tight game and it will come down to goaltending and special teams as it always does,” said Sandelin.
Abbott status unchanged
The playing status of Maine senior left wing Spencer Abbott for Saturday’s game is still uncertain. Abbott, the nation’s leading scorer, is a Hobey Baker Award finalist and the Hockey East Player of the Year.
Abbott, who has 20 & 41 in 38 games, suffered a head injury in the third period of Friday night’s 5-3 Hockey East semifinal win over Boston University and didn’t play in the 4-1 championship game loss to Boston College.
“Doctors have told me not to do interviews.. sorry,” said Abbott before heading into a Tuesday team meeting.
Abbott did grant interviews on Sunday but since has been advised not to address the media as he recuperates.