The UMaine men’s ice hockey player wants his opponents to hate him

Freshman at the University of Maine hockey left winger Thomas Freel is not going to make friends on opposing teams.

He doesn’t want it.

His gritty and direct style of play agitates opponents.

“I want people to remember me, but not for the right reasons,” Freel said. “I like being the guy other teams don’t like to play or fight against.”

The 5-foot-11, 181-pound Freel has one goal and three assists for four points in his first nine games, and has blocked five shots. It plays an essential role for the UMaine men’s hockey teamthe hard-nosed power forward – a vital position for winning puck battles and causing havoc by setting up screens, engaging defenders and slipping rebounds.

“There’s not a lot of guys out there that want to go do the dirty work that he does,” UMaine second-year head coach Ben Barr said. “Guys rally around him. He goes to the net, takes a penalty, kills penalties. He does a bit of everything. »

He plays in all situations, including the power play and the penalty kill.

“He deserved every second of ice time he got,” Barr said. “He understands what he is. He’s one of those guys you just have to tell once to do something. He already knows.

Freel’s heritage explains some of his hardy traits. He was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, then moved with his family to Ottawa, Ontario when he was around 6 or 7 years old.

He was a late player and never played hockey in Scotland.

“I saw some of my neighbors (in Ottawa) playing street hockey. I didn’t know what it was. I participated and loved it.

He was invited by his friends to join an ice hockey team.

“I showed up on the first day of tryouts with brand new gear that I had never worn before. It was a bit of a gong show. I had to learn to skate in the middle of tryouts,” said said Freel.

“The first two years were a bit slow, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I fell in love with it right away and it took off from there.

He played for several Ottawa junior teams, including the Ottawa Junior Senators of the Central Canada Hockey League last season, where he had 35 goals and 26 assists for 61 points in 51 games. He also had three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 10 playoff games.

The league isn’t as prestigious as the USA Hockey League or the BC Junior Hockey League, but Barr said Freel’s style is well-suited for success at the college level, while some Top USHL players can’t adapt to the “heavier and tougher” brand of hockey in college.

“And if they don’t score in college, that’s a problem. But he’s a guy who even if he doesn’t score, he’s still going to help your team,” Barr said. “He’s one of those retro players.”

Freel, 21, feels lucky to have had plenty of ice time at UMaine.

“They gave me a ton of opportunities. It really helped my confidence. I just try to approach each day as a new day,” Freel said. “Whether you pass or fail the day before, you bring the same mindset.”

He enjoys working on his game and appreciates the resources of the team, explaining that he can train with sports performance coach Codi Fitzgerald or can squeeze in half an hour of skating between classes and maybe shoot the puck with volunteer assistant Matthew Vanden Berg.

“Everyone has been so accommodating,” he said. “You get out of it what you put into it.”

He said the biggest adjustment to college hockey is speed.

“It’s such a fast game. You don’t have time on the puck,” Freel said.

Freel and the Black Bears, 2-6-1 overall and 0-3-1 in Hockey East, will look to end a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) at Merrimack Friday at 4 p.m. and Saturday to 19h. pm

He really enjoys playing for the Black Bears and in front of the energetic crowds at Alfond Arena.

“It’s so special. I don’t take it for granted. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else,” he said.

Catherine J. Martinez