ORONO, Maine — University of Maine freshman wing Connor Leen hasn’t played since a 4-1 loss to UMass on Feb. 18.
He has been a healthy scratch.
But Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead said Leen is the “front-runner” to replace Spencer Abbott in the lineup against Minnesota-Duluth in Saturday night’s Northeast Regional if Abbott isn’t cleared to play after suffering a head injury in last Friday’s 5-3 Hockey East semifinal win over Boston University.
“Connor has a lot of speed and skill and has looked great in practice,” said Whitehead.
Abbott skated on Thursday but Whitehead said doctors “haven’t cleared him to play.”
“He’s feeling better but he is evaluated every day and has to pass a series of tests [to become eligible],” said Whitehead.
Abbott is the nation’s leading scorer, was the Hockey East Player of the Year and is a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
Leen has played in 22 games and has one goal, a game-winner against Boston College on Jan. 21.
If Leen is put on the top line with Brian Flynn and Joey Diamond, that would enable Whitehead to keep his other three lines intact.
“We obviously want Spencer to play,” said Leen. “He’s been our top player and is the top player in the country. We need him. But if he can’t play and I get a chance, it would be great.”
Leen said if he plays, he doesn’t think it would take him long to get back into the swing of things.
“Because it’s such a big game, it would be easy to get into it real quickly. Energy won’t be an issue,” said Leen.
He said he will focus on “doing my job defensively.”
“And I’ll take any offensive chances I get. I’ll try to get pucks to the net and help my linemates make plays,” said Leen.
Maine junior right wing Matt Mangene would feel comfortable with Leen back in the lineup.
“He definitely came up big in the BC game,” said Mangene. “He’s a very skilled forward who plays with a lot of tenacity and grit.”
“We’re confident whoever is in there will step up,” said junior left wing Adam Shemansky.
The other possibilities would be freshman right wing Andrew Cerretani or freshman defenseman Jake Rutt.
Mangene could be moved up to play with Flynn and Diamond but that would mean someone would have to take his spot on the shutdown line with Mark Anthoine and Stu Higgins.
Cerretani previously has played with Shemansky and Kyle Beattie and was with them in Saturday’s 4-1 Hockey East championship game loss to BC.
Beattie, Shemansky productive linemates
Beattie and Shemansky have played together most of the season and were former Eastern Junior Hockey League linemates with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs.
Beattie has 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists) and Shemansky has 21 (11 & 10) and they have developed a chemistry that has enabled them to have productive seasons despite having a variety of right wings.
“Adam and I read off each other well and we know what to do. We play well together. It will only take a couple of shifts in practice to adjust,” said Beattie.
“I enjoy playing with Kyle. We try to be predictable for each other,” said Shemansky. “As long as we’re sticking to our systems, anyone can jump in anywhere.”