The University of Maine men’s hockey team will be adding a goalie within two weeks.
Twenty-year-old Nik Nugnes, who had been between the pipes for the Connecticut Oilers of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, will join the team after it returns from playing in the Florida College Classic in Estero, Fla., this weekend.
His participation is dependent upon his acceptance into school and meeting NCAA eligibility requirements.
Nugnes said he will be a nonscholarship player for the rest of this season.
He will practice with the team in preparation for next season, but added that the Maine coaching staff told him they are also looking for insurance this season, “in case something happens to Marty [Ouellette] or Dan [Sullivan].”
Ouellette has been the workhorse, playing in 15 of Maine’s 16 games. Sullivan started the last one. Both are seniors.
Sophomore Matt Strickrott is the third-string goalie, but the mechanical engineering major also handles administrative duties such as helping with the video work.
Matt Morris, who appeared in six games as a freshman last season, is a medical redshirt after having offseason hip surgery.
Nugnes, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound native of West Barnstable, Mass., said he played in a Christmas showcase tournament last weekend and was invited to join the Black Bears afterward.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” said Nugnes. “I couldn’t be more excited.”
He said he was told the goaltending job was up for grabs next year among Morris, himself and incoming freshman Sean Romeo of Cary, N.C.
“I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to prove myself,” said Nugnes. “And this will give me a chance to get a half-season under my belt seeing Hockey East shooters every day in practice. I couldn’t pass that up.”
Nugnes was 7-19 with a 3.54 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage for the Oilers a year ago when they finished 12-28-4 and in sixth place in the EJHL’s seven-team Southern Division. He is 13-6 this season and the Oilers are leading the Central Division with an 18-7-1 record.
“We had one of the weaker teams in the league last year but seeing 46-47 shots a game really helped my development,” said Nugnes. “This year has been a huge transition. I’ve gotten to play behind a better team.”
Nugnes had originally intended to play for former Maine assistant coach Gary Wright’s American International College team this season but decided to wait a year to “develop a little more” and see if any other offers came his way. He said he has heard from other Division I schools in addition to Maine but he is glad to be heading north to Orono.
“There is so much tradition. This is my dream school,” said Nugnes who was primarily recruited by Maine assistant Ben Guite.
Nugnes could be considered a late bloomer because he was a highly-touted lacrosse player until deciding two years ago to pursue hockey full time.
“Most of my summers had been spent playing lacrosse,” he explained.
On The Goalie Guild Goalie Website Network, goalie coach Brian Daccord said, “I really like Nik’s size and, technically, he’s very solid. He’s a prototypical NHL goalie as he squares up really nicely to pucks and takes away a lot of the net. I project him as a Division 1 goalie and his biggest point of emphasis will be his consistency from game to game.”