ORONO, Maine — Had Presque Isle’s Jillian Flynn decided to attend a Division III school instead of the University of Maine, she probably would be logging a lot of ice time as a starting goalie.
But the former All-Eastern Maine Class B second-team goalie for the Presque Isle High School boys hockey team has absolutely no regrets about her decision.
Flynn, who has appeared in only two games over 1 1/2 seasons, is enjoying being part of the nation’s No. 9-ranked Division I team.
UMaine (16-6-3 overall, 10-3-2 Hockey East) will take a 10-game unbeaten streak (8-0-2) into Saturday afternoon’s home game against Merrimack College.
The Black Bears have registered one of the nation’s most dramatic turnarounds after going 10-21-1 (6-17-1 in HE) last season.
“I’m a strong believer that everyone has a role on a team. If it means not playing right now, it’s fine. Carly (starting goalie Carly Jackson) is absolutely my best friend on the team. We both believe in doing what is best for the team,” said Flynn, who received an academic scholarship to attend UMaine.
UMaine head coach Richard Reichenbach called Flynn “one of the most influential players on our team.
“Everyone loves her and trusts her,” said Reichenbach. “She works extremely hard every day and has a great attitude. She always has a smile on her face.”
Reichenbach said Flynn has been a key factor in creating a healthy culture on a team that is the most diverse in women’s Division I hockey with players from eight different countries.
He said players who aren’t playing sometimes can have a divisive impact on a team with their poor attitudes.
“Jillian is the opposite. She’s a leader. She’s amazing,” said Reichenbach.
Flynn said she has never been on a team that is as close-knit as this one.
“The atmosphere is absolutely amazing,” said Flynn, who was also an outstanding soccer goalkeeper and softball catcher at Presque Isle. “It’s different than any team I have ever been on. There is such a close bond. Everyone is so committed to striving for the same thing: being nationally ranked and climbing up the ladder.”
She is quick to point out that despite the dramatic turnaround, they aren’t satisfied.
“Every time we move up, we’re super excited. But that lasts about 10 seconds and then everyone goes back to work,” said Flynn.
She said the dynamic of players from so many different countries having to communicate hasn’t been a problem. Even players who didn’t speak much English when they got to UMaine have flourished.
“They’ve come out of their shells. It is so cool to see people from all over the world accomplishing something together,” said Flynn.
It has also been educational for her.
“It has been incredible. I’ve learned cultural things I can take through the rest of my life,” said Flynn, who is a biology major.
Even though she is No. 3 on the depth chart behind Jackson, who took the nation’s 11th best goals-against average (1.78) and 15th best save percentage (.927) into Friday afternoon’s 4-1 win over Merrimack, and freshman Loryn Porter, Reichenbach has confidence in her.
“Her game has come a long way. Last week was her best week of practice since she’s been here,” said Reichenbach. “To come from Aroostook County, which isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed, and to be as strong a goalie as she is, is pretty remarkable.”
He pointed out that she wasn’t exposed to the type of coaching that Canadians Jackson and Porter received growing up.
“I kind of taught myself growing up. I didn’t have the resources to be become the best goalie possible. But I’ve taken leaps and bounds since I’ve been here,” said Flynn.
The men’s hockey team is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the program this weekend during a two-game series against New Hampshire. It has special meaning to Flynn, who used to come to UMaine games with her father Carl, who is the Presque Isle hockey coach, and her brothers.
“I remember coming to games when I was a young kid and I got (former coach) Tim Whitehead to sign my jersey. I would wear it to every practice,” said Flynn, who also attended several “Skating Strides” games that promote breast cancer awareness.
Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Merrimack is the Skating Strides game.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of people show up for it,” said Flynn.
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