It has been a baptism under fire for the freshmen on the University of Maine men’s hockey team.
Despite the team’s recent struggles, coach Tim Whitehead has been pleased with their development and is looking for them to take another step in that growth process beginning Saturday night when the Merrimack College Warriors invade Alfond Arena.
At least eight freshmen will be in the Black Bear lineup when they take on a Merrimack team that is loaded with freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re very pleased with our freshman class,” said Whitehead. “They have been respectful of the tradition here and have become more assertive, responsible and confident. They have all had good, positive attitudes.
“Their next challenge is to become even more assertive and make more of an impact on the game,” added Whitehead.
“We knew it was going to take them some time to learn the systems but they’ve done really well and they’re getting better every game,” said Maine junior goalie Ben Bishop.
Bishop has three freshmen directly in front of him in defensemen Josh Van Dyk, Jeff Dimmen and Mike Banwell and the goalie predicted great things for them down the road.
“In their junior and senior years, they’re going to be scary [good]. They’ll have the best defense corps in the conference,” said Bishop.
Van Dyk, Dimmen and Banwell admit there have been growing pains but they’re feeling more comfortable with every game.
Van Dyk said the jump from junior hockey to college hockey has been “more than I expected. There’s a lot of little things you need to learn, especially in the defensive zone. And your passes have to be tape-to-tape.”
Van Dyk has played in all 12 games and is looking for his first point. He said he has been slumping of late but hopes to turn in a solid performance Saturday night and build on that.
Banwell said since they are older freshmen, they have been able to hold their own when it comes to physical play.
He said the most difficult adjustment has been to the mental aspect of the game and the speed with which you have to assess a situation.
“You have to make the right decisions [immediately],” said Banwell, who has an assist in eight games.
Dimmen, who has two goals and two assists in nine games, said the fact Whitehead and his staff has had enough confidence to play the freshmen has benefited their confidence.
“And it definitely helps to have some games under your belt,” said Dimmen.
The freshmen defensemen also indicated that the seniors have been extremely helpful.
The freshmen forwards who will be in the lineup will be Tanner House, Glenn Belmore, Robby Dee, Andrew Sweetland and Keif Orsini.
House is returning from a six-game suspension for violating team rules. He was charged with unlawful sexual contact and assault on Nov. 4. He had a goal and assist in seven games. He missed the Merrimack series.
“He’s a good player. He’s strong,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, who feels his team will have its hands full.
Larry Mahoney may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8231.