ORONO – Mike Hamilton and Wes Clark were productive scorers in junior hockey.
But they will be taking on new roles for the University of Maine men’s hockey team this season.
The Bears open their home schedule Friday and Saturday nights against College Hockey America power Bemidji State (Minn.), which has made the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons and is the preseason pick to win the CHA title.
University of Maine coach Tim Whitehead said Hamilton and Clark will be asked to be strong, two-way centers, replacing departed Derek Damon and Jon Jankus.
Senior Hamilton and junior Clark, who primarily have been wings at Maine, could find themselves trying to shut down the opponents’ most prolific centers.
“They both skate well; they’re both aware defensively; they’re good on faceoffs and they can contribute some offense, too,” said Whitehead.
Hamilton and Clark, who were centers in junior hockey, are looking forward to the challenge.
“I’ve always looked at myself as a two-way player,” said Clark. “We have a lot of guys who are two-way players. It’s definitely an important role.”
Hamilton has scored only four goals in his last 72 games and said this gives him a chance to contribute in other ways until he snaps out of his scoring slump.
“If you aren’t scoring, you’ve got to be doing something [to help the team], whether it’s defensively, penalty-killing or just whatever you can do; playing the body, shutting other guys down. The biggest thing is being strong in the ‘D’ [defensive] zone.
“If I’m not getting the offensive opportunities, I’m going to try my best to be a two-way player and contribute any way I can for the team,” said Hamilton, who scored three playoff goals his freshman year including two game-winners.
But since then his goal scoring has been limited despite the fact Hamilton has an exceptional wrist shot.
“I know I have potential to put the puck in the net. I worked hard on it every day in practice and I [score] in practice,” said Hamilton. “It’s just a matter of time. I feel real comfortable, I’m in great shape and I think it’s going to start happening for me as long as I keep working hard.”
Clark, meanwhile, has played in just 21 games his first two seasons and is looking to have a breakthrough season.
“I trained really hard in the off-season. I’m stronger and faster,” said Clark. “I want to be in the lineup every weekend.”
Clark certainly helped his chances to stay in the lineup in the season-opening 3-1 win over Minnesota by assisting on Bryan Plaszcz’s game-winner and winning nine of his 11 faceoff draws.
Both enjoy playing center because they are constantly involved in the game at both ends of the ice.
Maine senior center and captain Michel Leveille said he has tons of confidence in both of them.
“The past couple of years, they haven’t really shown what they can do. They have skills. They just need confidence to play at the level they can play at,” said Leveille.
Clark and Hamilton served lengthy suspensions for being involved in an off-ice altercation last season and both have been hampered by injuries.
“That’s in the past,” said Clark, who expects a challenging weekend.