ORONO – Billy Ryan knows he will have a target on his back this season.
The University of Maine senior left wing and assistant captain is the Bears’ top returning scorer after collecting 13 goals and 20 assists in 40 games last season. He was fourth in points.
He was also one of the team’s top point producers on the power play (6 & 10) and in game-winning situations ( 2 & 9).
The Bears have lost seven of their top 10 scorers.
The 6-foot-1, 178-pound Ryan isn’t worried about the special attention he probably will receive from opposing checkers.
“That’s fine. I’ve gotten used to that growing up. It doesn’t bother me,” said Ryan at the team’s media day Tuesday. “I usually get inspired when teams focus on me. It gives me confidence that I’m playing well.”
“He always rises to a challenge,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He understands he can’t do it all himself but, at the same time, Bill is one of those rare players who has the courage to make a play under pressure.”
The Milton, Mass., native has prepared for the shadowing and the pressure that comes with it.
“It was in the back of my mind all summer. I worked extra hard. I knew there would be a lot of pressure on my shoulders to help carry this team and other guys are going to have to step it up, too,” said Ryan.
He focused primarily on his skating this summer.
He was hampered by ankle surgery prior to the 2006-2007 season.
“It took me a while to feel comfortable last year,” said Ryan, who is “100 percent” healthy entering this season.
He added that his skating has improved significantly.
Whitehead said Ryan “did a great job building himself up during the year after coming back from the ankle surgery and I certainly expect him to pick up where he left off last year. He was one of our top scorers down the stretch.”
Ryan notched 13 points (6 goals and 7 assists) in his last 13 games and had 4 goals and 2 assists over his last six games.
Ryan isn’t putting any lofty expectations on himself.
“I’m trying not to think about what I have to do. I’m just trying to think of what we have to do as a team to win. That’s everyone’s mindset right now,” said Ryan. “Obviously I want to have a great season but more importantly I want this team to have a successful year.”
Whitehead said Ryan has evolved from an offensive player with defensive shortcomings into a solid, two-way performer.
“He’s got those magic hands and great vision but he’s really become a complete player,” said Whitehead. “I’m very proud of him. He’s smart defensively and he’s good on the penalty kill. He has always been an elite offensive guy and now he has made himself into a strong two-way player. He’s going to help us in every situation now.”
Ryan, a third-round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 2004, has improved his point total every year and now has 29 goals and 47 assists in 110 career games.
He had just 77 shots on goal last year and acknowledged he needs to shoot more.
“My role is to score goals and set up plays. Whenever I’m in close, I’ve got to try to shoot instead of making an extra move,” said Ryan.
Maine has 10 newcomers and they’ve impressed Ryan.
“They’re all older kids who are mature and strong. They should be able to step right in [and help us],” said Ryan.
Maine hosts the U.S. under-18 national team in a Saturday night exhibition before opening the season at Denver the following weekend.
BILLY RYAN FILE
2004-05: Goals: 6; assists: 9; power-play goals: 0; shorthanded goals: 0; game-winning goals: 2
2005-06: G: 10; A: 18; PP: 7; SH: 0; GW: 2
2006-07: G: 13; A: 20; PP: 6; SH: 1; GW: 2
Career: G: 29; A: 47; PP: 13; SH: 1; GW: 6
. Named to the Hockey East All-Academic Team in 2006-07.
. Named a Maine Scholar-Athlete Rising Star in 2004-05.
. Played at Cushing Academy in 2003-04 and compiled 35 goals and 55 assists.
. A public management major.
. His brother Mike played at Northeastern in 2003-04 and played last season with the Buffalo Sabres.