ORONO – Junior defenseman Matt Duffy has always possessed impressive offensive skills. He had 19 goals and 25 assists in 54 games for the New Hampshire Monarchs in the Eastern Junior Hockey League in 2004-2005.
So when the University of Maine men’s hockey team was having trouble scoring, Duffy was moved up to a wing by head coach Tim Whitehead.
Whitehead was also trying to jumpstart Duffy, who was struggling on defense.
The move has worked nicely.
Duffy has scored four goals in his four games at wing and was named the Hockey East Player of the Week after netting his first career hat trick in a 3-1 triumph over Merrimack College on Saturday night.
He had eight goals and 10 assists in 67 games on defense during his first two seasons at Maine.
Maine invades Durham, N.H., for a 4 p.m. Hockey East game Sunday against the University of New Hampshire, ranked 10th in the country.
“He brings a lot of energy up front and he’s always physical,” said Maine senior defenseman and captain Travis Ramsey.
Ramsey also said since Duffy has been a defenseman, he is conscientious in the defensive zone.
“And his goal scoring has been big for us,” added Ramsey.
“I’ve been very pleased with Matt’s performance up front,” said Whitehead. “He’s accomplished what we hoped it would: It recharged his batteries and gave him an opportunity to contribute to the team in a positive way. He’s contributing defensively, too. He gives us a very strong two-way forward we can drop back on defense on the penalty kill or if somebody gets hurt.”
“He has a heavy wrist shot and slap shot and has the courage to stand at the netfront and get into position to bury it when he gets it,” added Whitehead.
“He doesn’t look out of place up there. He has really impressed me,” said Maine junior left wing Chris Hahn, who added that Duffy fills a void up front.
“We don’t have a lot of real big, strong forwards [like Duffy],” said Hahn, referring to Duffy’s 6-foot-2, 201-pound frame.
“That was a good move by [Whitehead],” said UNH coach Dick Umile.
Duffy said the transition has presented its share of challenges.
“I’m still learning out there,” said Windham native Duffy, who hadn’t played forward since his early days in youth hockey. “Angling [opponents] is the biggest adjustment. I try not to get caught out of position. I’m still learning the systems.”
He said he has been happy with his performance to date and is enjoying his new position.
“I like to get shots on net and I like to score. I want to contribute to the team,” said Duffy, who credited his linemates for his success.
Duffy is currently on the left wing with senior center Wes Clark and junior right wing Jeff Marshall. Clark and Marshall assisted on Duffy’s first two goals last weekend.
Duffy said he’s still more comfortable on defense, “but I’m getting more comfortable up front.”
Having someone who can play both defense and forward “adds to our versatility,” said Hahn.
Duffy had the game-winner in a 4-2 win over UNH in Manchester last season and knows there is a lot at stake on Sunday.
“They’re a big rival and if we can go down there and get a win, it could turn our season around,” said Duffy.
MATT DUFFY FACTS
. Played in 39 games for Maine in 2006-07 with five goals and five assists, including a goal in an NCAA East Regional game against Massachusetts.
. Played in 28 games for Maine in 2005-06 with three goals and five assists, including a game-winning goal against UMass Lowell in a Hockey East quarterfinal game.
. Played two seasons for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs before coming to Maine.
. One of two players from the state of Maine on the roster.