Mark Nemec earned a reputation as an effective shutdown defenseman for the University of Maine men’s hockey team a year ago.
After sitting out a redshirt year in 2008-2009 and suffering a broken thumb in his second game that sidelined him for 10 games last season, he eventually became a fixture on the blue line.
He notched a goal and four assists in 28 games. He was minus-one in plus-minus which awards a player a plus-one when he is on the ice when his team scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal and a minus-one if the other team scores one.
He has taken on a more prominent role this season and he has emerged as one of the team’s top penalty-killing defensemen, including five-on-threes.
He has a goal and an assist in 12 games but, more importantly, he is tied for third on the team in plus-minus at plus-seven.
Nemec, who will turn 22 on Saturday, has been pleased with his elevated role.
“It’s definitely a good feeling knowing (the coaching staff) has confidence in you,” said Nemec. “It has definitely been a great opportunity for me so far. I’ve been getting (more) experience.”
“He’s a really good player,” said Providence College coach Tim Army. “He’s steady.”
Nemec is one of the reasons the 7-3-4 Black Bears have allowed 11 fewer goals than they did at this stage a year ago despite having inexperienced goaltending and being without injured top-scoring defensemen Jeff Dimmen and Will O’Neill for the past three games. O’Neill has missed six games with a knee injury while Dimmen has missed three with a badly sprained ankle.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said he hasn’t been surprised by Nemec’s steady improvement because of his “attitude and work ethic.
“He has been playing great for us,” added Whitehead, who compared him to former Black Bear captain Travis Ramsey.
Nemec is the tallest player on the Maine roster at 6-foot-4and he packs 205 pounds on that frame.
“He has been awesome,” said Maine sophomore goalie Shawn Sirman. “The guys say that they hate playing against him in practice because he has such a big wing span. That makes him hard to get around. He is so good in our end and he is one of the hardest working guys on the team.”
Nemec takes pride in the defensive aspect of his game.
“I’m trying to become a solid defensive player,” said Nemec. “I want to get better gaps to slow down the rush and make better reads.”
“He is a solid defensive player who works hard and plays smart,” said senior defenseman Josh Van Dyk. “He inspires you with his work ethic.”
Nemec said he works on improving every day.
“Every game is a different lesson. You take what you can from a game and move on,” he said. “It’s definitely a learning process.”
He said he has been “very happy” with the progression of his game but said, ” I can definitely improve in some areas.”
He works diligently on his footwork, especially during the summer. He has attended the DC Hybrid Skating camp where he has received instruction from former Olympic speed skater David Cruikshank and former NHL player Curtis Brackenbury.
Although defense will always be his primary focus, he said “I’m definitely working on my offense and other little things.
“I want to take my game to the next level,” said Nemec, a native of Rouses Point, N.Y., who played junior hockey for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs.
“He doesn’t make mistakes and keeps it really simple,” said senior center and captain Tanner House.
Power-play slump continues
The Black Bears’ current 0-for-29 drought on the power play is the longest during Whitehead’s 10 years behind the bench at Maine.
But the Bear players are confident they will snap out of it.
“We got some good looks,” said Maine junior left wing Spencer Abbott following Saturday night’s 5-0 victory over Providence. “We’re just a little snake-bitten right now. We’ll be fine.”
The penalty-killing has had a resurgence of late, killing off 10 of 11 chances over the last three games.
“It was great both nights. That was a highlight of the weekend for us,” said junior right wing Brian Flynn after Maine’s 8-for-8 PK showing in its win and tie at Providence.
Skate with the Bears scheduled
There will be two Skate With the Bears programs in the next month.
There will be one at Orono’s Alfond Arena on Saturday from 5-6 p.m. and another from 2-3 p.m. at the Family Ice Center in Falmouth on New Year’s Day.
Fans will get a chance to meet and skate with members of the University of Maine’s men’s and women’s hockey programs and obtain autographs.
These events are free and open to the public and refreshments will be available.