University of Maine junior hockey player Steve Kariya talked with NEWS reporter Larry Mahoney about his collegiate career and the team’s inconsistency this season.
You’ve had two years of frustration, having good teams but not being able to play in the NCAA Tournament. This year it looks like it’s going to take a minor miracle to get there the way things have gone. What has happened?
It’s tough to explain. You look at our team from last year and, obviously, we lost some key guys. There’s no question about it. We lost two of our best defensemen and some really gritty forwards that had a ton of experience. We’ve replaced them with freshmen, basically, and it’s kind of been a learning experience so far this year. Sometimes, when you’re a younger team, you’re inconsistent. That’s just one of the things we’ve had to deal with. When you’re a young team, you just have to fight through it and work hard to improve and get better. That’s all you can do.
How do you assess your own individual play? You got off to a fast start but you’ve been held pointless in seven of your last nine games. You seem to be getting scoring chances.
It’s a little frustrating. That happens. The important thing for me is that I’m getting scoring chances. My linemates and my teammates in general, we’re getting a lot of scoring chances. We’re having difficulty putting it in the net. That happens. It’s a game of ups and downs. Just when things are going really well, the game can humble you very quickly. That’s why it’s such a great game and such a difficult game to be consistent [in] for a whole year. I don’t think there’s a player around who doesn’t go through ups and downs in the course of a season. You just work hard, keep a positive attitude and keep improving.
How much of an influence has Paul been on your career?
He’s been a huge influence. He’s like another coach to me. I’ve learned so much from him in the summer. He helps me out with every aspect of my game. You take it for granted how lucky you are to have one of the best players in the world, to be able to talk to him and work out with him. You don’t really think about it that way. He’s your brother and he’s there to help you. It’s just been great.
How has the Bryan Masotta incident affected the team and what is your take on the whole situation?
It’s one big distraction. It shouldn’t have happened. It’s really too bad. It was an unforunate situation. Obviously, it’s done with now. I just hope that everyone, not just on our team, but the athletes around campus learn from that situation. We don’t want that to happen again. It’s not good for the hockey team, the football team, it’s not good for the whole university. It’s an ugly situation and I’m pretty glad it’s resolved now.
What kind of aspirations do you have for the rest of the season?
We want to make the NCAAs. That’s been our goal all along. We’re not out of it by any means, I don’t think. You said it would take a minor miracle. I don’t know if it’s quite that drastic yet. We still have it in our hand. If we finish the regular season strong, there’s a chance we’ll be in the top 12 before we go into playoffs. Obviously, if we’re not, the only way we’re getting in is to win Hockey East. This team is more than capable of doing that. I think we’ve shown we can play with the best teams in the league. It’s just a matter of executing and everybody be on the right page at the right time. I’m still very optimistic. I think this weekend is obviously going to be huge, these next few games [at Boston University]. It’s a matter of who wins the most games coming down the stretch because we’re so tight right now.
A lot has transpired since you made your decision to come to Maine, including being kept out of the NCAA Tournament two years. Any regrets about your decision to come to Maine?
No, I’ve had a great time here. I think I’ve improved as a hockey player a ton here and really grown as a person. Obviously, it’s disappointing not playing in the playoffs but that was out of my hands and out of all the players’ hands. You can’t dwell on that. We have an opportunity right now and we just have to do our best to take advantage of that opportunity.