Baptism under fire.
That is what Jeff Dimmen, Josh Van Dyk and Mike Banwell have experienced this season on the blue line for the University of Maine men’s hockey team.
They have seen considerable playing time in one of college hockey’s best leagues and they’ve had to deal with some of the nation’s top forwards like Boston College’s Nathan Gerbe, Boston University’s Peter MacArthur and New Hampshire’s Mike Radja.
They will have their hands full this weekend when they again take on MacArthur and the Terriers, who are fifth in the country in goal production at 3.54 per game.
MacArthur has 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in 10 career games against Maine.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “It’s been tough for them. Teams have been keying on them. They’ve stayed focused and they’ve each improved in their own way, on and off the ice. They’ve had very solid years. They give us a great base for the future.”
Whitehead has never had three freshman defensemen in his rotation since he came to Maine seven years ago and pointed out some defensemen who evolved into top-notch players as upperclassmen saw limited playing time as freshmen.
Steve Mullin played in only 12 games as a freshman and current captain Travis Ramsey played in 18 games, although he was injured, Whitehead said.
Dimmen has been the most consistent of the three, according to Whitehead. He has two goals and four assists in 23 games for the 8-15-3 Black Bears.
Van Dyk, coming off what Whitehead termed a great weekend against New Hampshire, has played in 25 games and hasn’t registered a point yet. Banwell has two assists in 19 games.
“I’ve felt pretty good out there lately,” said Dimmen. “Coach has more confidence in us and has been using us against the other team’s better forwards. That’s always a boost.”
“I feel like I can play against [the better forwards] now instead of just hoping I could shut them down,” Dimmen added.
“We know the team is counting on us now,” said Van Dyk. “They need us to step up.”
Van Dyk said he is more accustomed to the game at this level now and is more “willing to make plays.”
However, he noted that creating offense isn’t his top priority.
“You can’t dominate games like you could in juniors. Defense comes first here,” said Van Dyk. “The games are lower-scoring than the games in junior hockey, so you can’t afford to turn the puck over [and have it result in a goal].”
“We just try to get the puck to the forwards and let them do their jobs,” said Dimmen. “You can’t force things.”
They know BU poses problems for opposing defensemen.
“They’re a gritty, hardworking team. They’re all physical. We have to make sure they don’t dominate us physically,” said Banwell. “We’ve got to make simple plays. We can’t make those [risky] cross-ice passes.”
“BU’s a talented team. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but they’re ready for it,” said Whitehead.