Tony Link has always been a defensive-minded defenseman. When it came to goals, he had been the missing Link.
But, all of a sudden, the senior from Anchorage, Alaska, has become a goal scorer.
He didn’t score his first career goal until his 92nd game and that was in Maine’s 4-2 win over UMass-Lowell Jan. 4 in the Dexter Hockey Classic final.
That goal came on, of all things, a backhander from the high slot.
Link was at it again on Sunday, scoring a pair of goals on wrist shots in Maine’s 10-4 win over Merrimack College. One was a screened wrister from the left point and the other was a 15-footer off a Brian Downey pass. Link had jumped into the offense and was left all alone heading for the far post.
“I knew the first goal would eventually come,” said Link. “I’ve been taking shots for four years so I figured I’d get a fluke one of these days. It turned out to be a pretty nice one. I was pretty pumped. It took a monkey off my back.”
Link had two previous goals earlier in his career called back due to man-in-the-crease infractions.
His decision to become more involved in the offense was prompted by Maine Coach Shawn Walsh and his teammates.
“Coach has been working with the defense this year, more than he ever has, on getting our shots on net,” said Link. “That’s what makes things happen. We’ve also worked on faking shots, walking around people and getting the puck to the net where our forwards can take over. It’s tough to score 5-on-5 goals in this league so we’ll take as many garbage goals as we can get. We have plenty of forwards who get in and dig in front of the net.”
His teammates emphasized the need for him to shoot more at a recent team meeting in which players wrote their own personal opinions of their teammates.
“He’s got one of the best wrist shots in the league and he should shoot whenever he gets the chance,” said sophomore Jason Weinrich, Link’s defense partner.
“My wrist shot is probably harder than my slap shot,” said Link. “The guys have told me if they had my wrist shot, they’d score 20 goals a year.”
He also said he has been shooting to score instead of shooting for a tip-in.
Link enjoys being more involved in the offense and said it helps his defensive play.
“If you only play defense, it’s like you’re only half in the game,” said Link. “Getting more involved offensively gets me more into the game. It’s something I’ve tried to do my entire career. Things have been coming together a little better than the last couple of years.”
Things hadn’t come together well early this season for the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder.
In fact, he wasn’t sure he was going to be in the lineup every game.
“He’s always been a slow starter,” said Walsh. “He has gotten more involved in the offense and has been using the second option better. He’s playing with more confidence now.”
By using the second option, Walsh referred to the fact Link has had more poise at the point and not tried to force a shot or a pass if an opponent was in position to block it.
“He’s been making the smart, easy play now,” said Weinrich. “He doesn’t try to overdo anything. He’s been playing great defense positionally. It was just a matter of time before he came into his own.”
Link acknowledged that he struggled early this season.
“It takes me a little while to get going, to get my head back into hockey,” said Link, who has an assist to go with his three goals this season and is plus-10. “I don’t know what it is. It’s just me. It’s something I have to get away from if I’m going to play anywhere after college.”
Link is a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.
He has been his own worst enemy at times. He has had a tendency to put a lot of pressure on himself and lose confidence if he wasn’t playing well.
“Coach (Grant) Standbrook has talked to me quite a bit about relaxing and not letting things bother me,” said Link. “Things don’t bother me like they used to.”
He said once he became a regular in the lineup this season, it relaxed him and has enabled him to play with more confidence.
He said his play and the play of the entire defense corps has benefitted from the defensive performance of the forwards.
“We’ve got to have the best defensive forwards in the league,” said Link. “I just have to face one man. It makes our jobs easier. What I’d like to do is punish opposing forwards more when they’re on my side of the ice. We’ve all been working on that.”
Link would love to win a national championship but he isn’t thinking about that right now.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on winning the Hockey East regular season championship,” said Link, who has been doing his share to help his team attain that goal.