When two incoming freshmen have already been drafted into the NHL and another has been selected to play in the first annual All-American Prospects game, the team they are playing for looks to have a bright future ahead.
This year, the University of Maine men’s ice hockey team has what many teammates and coaches have been calling an “elite” class of freshmen. This class is highlighted by forward Devin Shore of Ajax, Ontario; defenseman Ben Hutton of Prescott, Ontario; and forward Will Merchant of Eagan, Minn.
Shore was selected in the second round, 61st overall by the Dallas Stars, while Hutton was taken in the fifth round, 147th overall by the Vancouver Canucks.
Before UMaine, Shore was part of the Junior A hockey league Ontario Junior Hockey League, playing for the Whitby Fury. Shore scored 36 goals and tallied 54 assists in 64 games for the Fury last season.
Hutton played Junior A hockey last season as well, splitting time between the Kemptville 73s and the 2011-2012 Central Canada Hockey League champion Nepean Raiders. Hutton scored 16 goals and gained 40 assists.
Merchant played in the first annual All-American Prospects game on Sept. 29 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Junior goaltender Dan Sullivan pointed out Shore as a player to watch, and even compared him to a recent UMaine hockey great.
“I really like [Devin Shore], he has great vision and is a talented guy. All of our freshmen are talented, that’s why we recruited them. I think you can expect a lot of [Shore] and I’m looking forward to it. A very good offensive-minded guy,” Sullivan said. “He reminds me of Gustav Nyquist with his vision and ability to elude players. He is pretty slippery out there.”
Shore was flattered, but made it a point that his job was to help the team in any way possible.
“My biggest goal is to help my team get its best chance to win every night. It’s fun to go out and win hockey games in a rink like this. It can be blocking a shot, winning a face-off, sometimes scoring points, but just doing whatever I can to contribute,” Shore said. “I want to go into this year like any other year. I just want to play my game, help contribute. The biggest motivation for me is to help the seniors leave with something to their name. We have a great group of seniors. I want them to win something more than I want to win something myself.”
Shore also pointed out that he wants to represent UMaine well while wearing the jersey.
“I went here on my visit, I saw a game. I said I have to play in front of this crowd, the coaches are great, and they made it an easy decision. I like the campus, and hockey is number one here. It’s an honor to put on this jersey,” Shore added.
Team captains have also praised the class so far in the preseason.
“Yeah, they’ve been unbelievable. They’ve really bought into everything we’ve been preaching. They are very skilled and highly talented and I have no complaints,” said captain senior defenseman Mike Cornell.
“They’ve been great. They have really impressed us throughout captain’s practice and they have really excited us to see how they will do [in the first game],” added captain senior forward Joey Diamond.
Other freshmen to look out for include Maine’s own Kyle Williams, a defenseman from Bowdoinham, Maine who played junior hockey for the New Hampshire Monarchs, as well as defenseman redshirt Bill Norman.
The other freshman forwards include Conor Riley, Steven Swavely and Ryan Lomberg. These players are ones that have had a year or more of junior hockey, which head coach Tim Whitehead says will be a tremendous help this year.
“We’ve got some elite freshmen coming in. [Will] Merchant, [Devin] Shore, and [Ryan] Lomberg are all true freshmen coming right out of high school, which in hockey is difficult. In college hockey, most guys have played one, two, even three years of junior hockey. Having said that, being a true freshman, it’s tough, and we don’t want to put too much pressure on these guys to try and do too much right away,” Whitehead said. “Kyle Williams, Steven Swavely, Connor Riley — these are guys who are a year older, and should be able to help out. This is the strongest group we’ve had in a long time.”
With support from the current captains and optimism from the coach, this group is sure to be a helpful part of the team for years to come. The scary part — for other Hockey East teams, that is — is that they will only be getting started this year.