PROVIDENCE, R.I. — This weekend’s Hockey East series between the University of Maine and Providence College at Schneider Arena will have a distinct Maine flavor.
There are five players from the Pine Tree State on the two teams and second-year Providence head coach Nate Leaman was an assistant coach at Maine during the program’s second national championship season in 1998-1999 after being an assistant at Old Town High School.
The five players work out together at the Portland Junior Pirates’ training facility in Saco over the summer.
Junior right wing Mark Anthoine of Lewiston, sophomore defenseman Jake Rutt of Scarborough and freshman defenseman-left wing Kyle Williams of Bowdoinham play for Maine with junior defenseman Kevin Hart of Cumberland and freshman goalie Jon Gillies of South Portland donning Providence colors.
The key matchup will see the offensively challenged Black Bears trying to solve the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Gillies, who was the Hockey East co-Defensive Player of the Week two weeks ago and Rookie of the Week this past week.
He is 1-2-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
Gillies, son of former New Hampshire goalie and football player Bruce Gillies, was drafted in the third round (75th overall) by the Calgary Flames last summer.
Leaman said he has been “real happy” with Gillies’ play.
“[Gillies] has been very good. He has been consistent,” said Leaman. “He’s very athletic and very poised. He doesn’t get rattled.”
Anthoine added, “I shot on him a little bit last summer. He’s big and fast and he has a good knowledge of the net.”
Williams said Gillies is a great goalie.
“He covers a lot of net. He’s going to be a big challenge for us,” said Williams, who was Gillies’ former teammate at North Yarmouth Academy for a year.
Maine has scored only six goals in its first five games, marking the worst output in school history over the first five games.
“We’re going to have to create rebounds,” said Williams. “He’s pretty good at controlling his rebounds but we have to shoot low, crash the net and get bodies in front of him.”
Teams usually like to shoot at the feet of tall goalies because they aren’t as quick or mobile as smaller goalies.
“Especially in close,” said Anthoine. “There’s more open down low. If they go down, it’s tough to score upstairs on them. So we’ll definitely need to keep our shots low and generate rebounds. We’ve got to score goals like that to break out of our slump.”
Rutt and Hart were teammates on several teams growing up and they work out together regularly during the summer.
“I sent him a Twitter message and told him I was going to dump a few pucks into his corner so watch out,” chuckled Rutt.
Rutt said Hart has evolved into a “pretty good offensive defenseman. And he has been working on his defensive skills, too. He’s a really good skater and we’re probably going to have to look out for him on their power play.”
Anthoine pointed out that his father, Mark Sr., and Hart’s father, John, used to be roommates at Bowdoin College. His father played basketball while John Hart played hockey.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Anthoine. “It should be intense. Everyone has another summer under their belts. We’ve all gotten stronger and better.”