ORONO, Maine — Ben Hutton had a productive freshman season at the University of Maine.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenseman was the team’s third-leading scorer a year ago with 15 points on four goals and 11 assists in 34 games.
He finished strong with two goals and five assists in his last nine games.
Hutton has taken his game to a new level this season.
“He has played really well,” said Maine coach Red Gendron. “He has a highly developed game. He has started to assert himself. With his maturity and this being his second season, he is starting to feel it and knows he can [play at a high level].”
Through nine games, Hutton already has three goals and two assists. Only four defensemen in the country have scored more than three goals.
”I got a new trainer over the summer and really focused on getting stronger,” said Hutton, a fifth-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks. “By getting stronger, especially in the lower body, I was able to get faster.
“It has really helped my game out,” he added. “I needed to get bigger and stronger because the players are stronger and older than the ones I faced in junior hockey.”
Hutton’s goals have all come on the power play, tying him for 11th in the nation in power-play goals.
His one-timer from a tough angle on a five-on-three proved to be the game-winner in Maine’s 2-0 win over Vermont on Friday night.
In that same game, he was able to make three clears on a Vermont power play while the game was scoreless.
Hutton was a consistent point-producer in junior hockey, scoring 16 goals in one season and notching 11 goals and 32 assists in 57 games for two teams (Kemptville and Nepean) in the Central Canada Hockey League in his final season.
“He has improved so much since last season,” said Maine senior goalie Marty Ouellette. “He has been amazing. He is on the ice all the time. He has been great for us on the power play and the penalty kill [in addition to even-strength]. I have no complaints when he is out there in front of me.”
Gendron said Hutton has good tools.
“He’s a good skater but, mostly, he has a feel for the game,” he said. “He can escape pressure. By subtly changing the position of the puck in relation to his body, he creates the space to make a play.”
Gendron said those three clearances on the UVM power play illustrated how Hutton was able to protect the puck and maneuver his body so he could avoid forecheckers and find a lane where he could scale the puck down the ice.
“You can’t teach that,” said Gendron.
Hutton has been satisfied with his season to date, although he acknowledged that he struggled in the two season-opening losses at St. Lawrence.
“That was a tough one for me but I got it dialed in after that series. I’ve played pretty well,” said Hutton, a native of Prescott, Ontario. “I have to keep things simple. But if I get a chance to join the rush, I will.”
The Black Bears will host Boston University on Friday night at 7.
Even-strength drought snapped
Mark Anthoine’s goal in the third period of Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Vermont snapped Maine’s string of 258 minutes without an even-strength goal. Blaine Byron added another later in the period.
But the Black Bears went just 1-for-10 on the power play.
“We needed more than one. We have to keep getting better offensively and on the power play,” said Gendron.
But he has seen signs of improvement on the offensive side of the puck.
“I see more and more plays being made. Every day we work hard on scoring dirty goals, but I see the kids making better passes and playing at a slightly higher pace every time they play.
“We’re in a result-oriented business and, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is winning. We’re getting better and doing more things right. That usually leads to victory but not necessarily. One thing we can control is our attention to detail. We will continue to work on getting better and executing better and ultimately it will lead to more goals and wins,” said Gendron.
Senior defenseman and captain Brice O’Connor suffered an injury in the first period of the Saturday night game and didn’t return. His status is up in the air.
Maine moved sophomore Billy Norman back to defense from left wing to fill in for O’Connor. Norman has played both forward and defense at Maine.
“Billy did a pretty good job,” said Gendron, who also used Norman at the point on the power play.
O’Connor also plays the point on a power-play unit.