ORONO, Maine — Facing opposing forwards in the British Columbia Hockey League is not as tough as going up against forwards who have spent several years playing in NCAA Division I.
But University of Maine freshman defenseman Mark Hamilton has been giving the Black Bears some quality minutes after playing just half a season of junior hockey for the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL a year ago because of a shoulder injury.
Hamilton has been part of second-year head coach Red Gendron’s plan to add size to his team in order to win more puck battles, especially in front of both nets.
The Winthrop, Massachusetts, native, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 220 pounds, has provided a physical presence for the Black Bears, which will open Hockey East play this weekend by hosting the youthful University of Massachusetts Minutemen at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Maine is 1-4-1 overall and will be playing its first league games while UMass is 2-3 overall, 1-2 in Hockey East.
“Mark has done a great job for us,” Gendron said. “He is a strong, physical defenseman, and the offensive part of his game is only going to improve.”
Hamilton has been an ideal defenseman, according to Maine junior defenseman Ben Hutton.
“He has stepped in perfectly. He wins his battles in the corners and keeps things simple,” Hutton said. “He moves the puck up the ice, and if he gets a chance to shoot, he’ll put it on net.”
Simplicity has been the key to Hamilton’s game so far.
“I try to be physical and try to be relentless out there,” the 20-year-old Hamilton said. “I want to be the type of defenseman [opposing forwards] don’t want to play against.”
“[Hamilton] has been risk-free and mistake-free for the most part,” said senior defenseman Jake Rutt, who has been paired with him for several games. “He hasn’t made the mistake I made when I was a young player by trying to do too much. He knows what his role is. He brings a lot to Maine hockey.”
Hamilton said there has “definitely been an adjustment period,” especially since he played in just 24 games a year ago.
“The New Brunswick game helped a lot, as did the two games in Alaska, and even playing against our guys in practice has helped a lot, [adapting to] the speed and physicality of the game,” said Hamilton, who has doled out a number of crunching hits.
He said there is room for improvement.
“I just try to get better every day,” he said.
Hamilton picked up his first point with an assist in Saturday night’s 3-3 overtime tie with Alaska-Anchorage but, he said, “we didn’t win, so it didn’t mean much.”
Hamilton said the Minutemen will present a challenge for him and his teammates.
He said they are small, quick and skilled.
UMass plays its home games at the Mullins Center, which is 10 feet wider than the Alfond Arena so they need to recruit speed.
“We’re going to have to be aggressive against them,” Hamilton said. “We have to have good gaps and take away their time and space with the puck.”