The University of Maine men’s hockey team has had players from several European countries including Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia and Scotland.
In a few years, they will have their first Russian-born player.
Defenseman Konstantin Chernyuk, who is currently playing for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) Junior Knights’ Under-16 team, has verbally committed to attend Maine. He is from St. Petersburg.
The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Chernyuk has three goals and 11 assists in 19 games.
He will turn 16 years old next month so he wouldn’t attend Maine until at least the 2016-17 season. He will probably either move up and play for the Knights’ U-18 team next season or in the United States Hockey League.
He will be a scholarship player, according to Tom Kowal, the Knights’ assistant coach.
Kowal said Chernyuk has a lot of raw talent and chose Maine from among a number of schools that were interested in him.
“He is a great skater and is a very smart hockey player. He knows the game,” said Kowal. “He has offensive skills but he is also the guy you want on the ice when you’re up by a goal with two minutes left in the game.
“Maine got a blue-chipper for sure and he has a great work ethic,” added Kowal.
Vince Malts, who is the head coach of the Knights’ Under-18 team and who also works with Chernyuk, compared him to former 6-foot-6 NHL defenseman Chris Pronger but said Chernyuk “has better hands.”
“He has a large wing-span and a big stick so he covers a lot of ice,” said Malts. “And he loves to play the game. He wants to get better.”
Chernyuk said he chose Maine because “I know the coaching staff is strong at developing players and the school has a big tradition of moving players to the NHL. Maine also has many great academic programs to choose from, which I like. There were other schools interested but my family and I felt Maine was a great choice.”
He is in his first year in America and Kowal, Malts and Chernyuk said it is important for him to continue adapting to the North American game which is played in smaller rinks than in Russia, meaning it is more physical and a player has less time to make decisions with the puck.
“My biggest things are to work on my strength as well as continuing to develop my overall speed of skill and decision-making with the puck,” said Chernyuk.
Chernyuk, who is attending high school, said he is thoroughly enjoying America.
“I love it! It’s great. The Knights family has been a big help with my transition,” said Chernyuk whose head coach, Alex Vasko, is also Russian.
His coming to Maine is dependent upon his being accepted into school and meeting NCAA eligibility requirements.