ORONO — One of the keys to winning hockey games is being able to break the puck out of the defensive zone quickly so your opponent doesn’t have time to establish a forecheck that could ultimately lead to a goal.
Speedster Matt Mangene had spent virtually all of his time at forward in his first two seasons at the University of Maine. He played three games on defense last year.
He is on defense this season, partnered with senior co-captain Will O’Neill, and he has given the Black Bears, who graduated three defensemen, a big lift.
He will hope to continue his impressive play this weekend when Maine visits the University of North Dakota for a two-game series. Both teams are 1-1.
“He is an automatic break-out with his speed,” said senior center and co-captain Brian Flynn.
“He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever stepped on the ice with. He’s a legitimate top (pairing) defenseman.”
Goalie Martin Ouellette added, “If he makes a mistake, he can get back because he’s so fast. He’s tough to play against.”
Mangene is versatile and earns a lot of ice time since he plays in all situations. He will sometimes be used up front on the penalty kill.
“He wears a lot of hats for us,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I love his assertiveness, his speed and his ability to log a lot of minutes. He makes good decisions. He’s a key player for us.”
“It has been working out great so far,” said Mangene. “I’ve been getting a lot of ice time and I’ve been able to create some scoring opportunities.”
Mangene said the transition from center to defense isn’t a major one.
“The center is pretty much the third defenseman in the defensive zone. The only thing is you don’t forecheck as much on defense although I had a couple of forechecks last weekend,” he said. “I know my first obligation is the defensive zone. From there, I just work toward the offensive zone.”
Mangene admits his speed is an asset.
“It helps me out a lot,” he said. “It creates a quicker breakout and it also enables me to get out of some bad situations.”
He actually prefers defense because “I like seeing the whole ice. It’s a lot more fun carrying the puck up the ice instead of waiting to receive it.”
Mangene credits partner O’Neill with playing an important role in his transition.
“He has helped me out a lot. We have so much trust in each other. He’s a big reason I’ve had a couple of good games,” said Mangene.
“He’s a pleasure to play with,” said O’Neill. “He’s so fast.”
Mangene knows they will be severely tested by a North Dakota team they swept in Orono last season.
“They’re obviously a good team. They’ve got a ton of talent,” said Mangene, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound native of Miller Place, N.Y. “They’ll want to sweep us because of what happened last year. I’m excited. I’ve never been out there. I’ve just played in the East my whole life. I think we’ll be ready for them.”