Since a Frozen Four appearance in 2007, it's been a tough time for the University of Maine's storied hockey program. The Black Bears went 26-40-7 over a two-year stretch, breaking a string of nine straight NCAA apperances that went back to the coaching tenure of the late Shawn Walsh.
This might all be on the verge of changing. The Black Bears are off to a surprisingly good start, sitting in third place in Hockey East and working on a five-game unbeaten streak that includes four straight wins. Swedish import Gustav Nyquist (NHL rights: Detroit) is a big reason for their solid start.
Nyquist is proving his freshman campaign was no fluke. He has followed up a 32-point rookie season with an even better pace so far this year. The 2008 fourth-round pick is averaging 1.5 points per game over the Bears' first 16 games this season. His 11 goals and 13 assists include three goals last weekend, as Maine swept Hockey East rival Providence.
After being overlooked while playing junior hockey in Sweden, Nyquist arrived in Orono last year. While the team struggled to just 13 wins, Nyquist scored a team-high 13 goals.
This year, the Black Bears are more than halfway to exceeding their 2008-2009 win total, and if they can keep winning, they'll be in the mix to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Nyquist, meanwhile, is drawing raves for his work ethic, skill, and smarts. The Detroit scouts who have been following him are impressed.
"He plays both ends of the ice. He has the skill to be a second-line guy, but the ability to be the complementary third-line guy who is willing to back-check and play in the hard areas. If you have a skilled guy like him that plays on your third line, that's going to be a good thing." -- Red Wings scout Mark Leach (January 2009).At Maine, Nyquist is seeing gobs of ice time, both on the power play and penalty kill. He still has to get stronger, and there is virtually no physical side to his game at all. However, he's such a strong two-way player because of his great hockey sense, and it's not hard to see Nyquist being in the NHL within three years, given his rapid development at Maine.
Other Players to Watch
Miami took full advantage of Notre Dame's struggling offense, shutting out the Irish 1-0 and 4-0 over the weekend. Goalies Cody Reichard (undrafted) and Connor Knapp (Buffalo) pitched the shutouts with 24 and 18 saves, respectively. Meanwhile, sophomore defenseman Cameron Schilling (undrafted) had three assists in the 4-0 win Saturday.
Junior forward Riley Nash (Edmonton) scored a third-period goal to give Cornell a 2-2 tie with Union Saturday night. That came after the Big Red rode 22 saves from goalie Ben Scrivens (undrafted) to a 2-1 win over RPI the night before.
Sophomore Cam Atkinson (Columbus) had three points (two goals, one assist) as Boston College won twice over the weekend, beating UMass and Boston University on the road. Jimmy Hayes (Toronto) assisted on two goals in the 4-1 win over BU.
New Hampshire sophomore defenseman Blake Kessel (N.Y. Islanders) -- younger brother of Toronto Maple Leaf Phil -- scored key goals in two UNH wins. He had the third-period game-winner in a 2-1 triumph over UMass-Lowell Friday, then scored in the second period to give UNH the lead for good in a 5-2 win at Vermont Sunday.