ORONO — There is a major adjustment from junior hockey to college hockey for a freshman defenseman.
Instead of facing players your own age, you’re dealing with older, faster, stronger forwards who will take advantage of any weakness or misstep.
University of Maine freshman defenseman Ben Hutton knew there would be a learning curve, but the 19-year-old from Prescott, Ontario, has been a bright spot for the Black Bears.
The fifth-round draft choice of the Vancouver Canucks has played in all 19 games and is one of only two players on the team who has a plus in the plus-minus category. He is a plus-one, as is sophomore right wing Andrew Cerretani.
Players earn a plus-one if their team scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal and a minus-one if the other team scores one.
Hutton has two goals and five assists including 2 & 3 in Maine’s 10 Hockey East games.
He quarterbacks one of Maine’s power-play units and has four power-play points (1 & 3). He also sees occasional duty on the penalty kill.
“I’ve been really impressed with him,” said Maine senior defenseman Mike Cornell, who is Hutton’s defense partner. “He’s going to end up the best of all of us. He has a really, really high ceiling as to what he can become. Right now, he’s only scratching the surface of where he’ll be. He’s naturally gifted.”
Cornell said Hutton reminds him of former partner Josh Van Dyk.
“He has a goofy laid-back personality and he’s really poised with the puck,” said Cornell. “He’s heady. He’s a smooth, silky player. It’s a pleasure to play with him.”
Hutton and Cornell are tied for second on the team in shots on goal with 43, one behind senior right wing Joey Diamond.
“He’s a good player,” said Northeastern University coach Jim Madigan, whose Huskies will host the Black Bears on Friday night before Maine visits Merrimack College on Saturday night. “He moves the puck well and is smart. He is a presence on the ice with the puck.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said Hutton has been a great addition.
“He has very good hockey sense, he works hard and he is very coachable,” he said. “He has all the tools to become an elite player.”
Hutton’s transition to college hockey was a challenge.
“At the start, it was definitely a different speed. Everything was quicker, everybody was stronger,” said the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hutton. “You have to make quicker decisions. I feel now that I’m adjusting pretty well.”
He said he has learned the importance of playing “a little bit more simple…having tighter gaps (between himself and opposing forwards). And using your defense partner helps so much.”
Cornell and Hutton have developed some pretty good chemistry and the team’s regular weight-training regimen has also been beneficial, Hutton said.
“I feel a lot stronger and that has given me more confidence. I’ve been throwing my body around more,” he said.
Hutton said being trusted to play on a power-play unit as a freshman has given him confidence “and that will give me the opportunity to develop even more.”
His focus for the rest of the season is on one thing.
“I just want to get some more wins for the team,” said Hutton who has enjoyed Maine despite the team’s 5-12-2 record.
“It has been a tough year but I love it here,” said Hutton.