ORONO — When Brian Flynn was on the bench between shifts, he heard what his linemate, Tanner House had to say about his responsibilities at center. House remarked about how he needed to adjust his positioning, what tendencies the opposing center had after he took a faceoff or where his teammates should be on the ice in the context of a certain situation.

The knowledge that House — who now plays in for the Edmonton Oilers’ American Hockey League team — offered wasn’t in vain. Flynn, now a senior on the University of Maine men’s hockey team, internalized it.

“I was able to learn from Houser in my first three years here,” Flynn said. “The little, subtle things he would do. Every time our line would come off after a shift, he’d start talking about the things you usually didn’t notice, but might give you an edge. Maybe listening to him point things out for a few years helped me a little bit.”

Four games into the season, Flynn is adjusting to a new role and a new position with the Black Bears. After spending three seasons at left wing, primarily on Maine’s top line, Flynn now centers Maine’s top line, joining left wing Spencer Abbott and right wing Joey Diamond as the Black Bears (1-2-1, 1-1 Hockey East) prepare to open a two-game series tonight against Providence.

“He hasn’t been struggling at all,” Abbott said. “And it’s a real tough transition. I played center in juniors and I know how tough the position is. There are times when you’ll ask another center exactly what to do, but he’s made that transition pretty quick. Quicker than most may have. Taking on the challenge of a new position in college is a pretty special thing.”

With the graduation of House and Robby Dee — Maine’s top two centers from the past two seasons — Maine coach Tim Whitehead shifted Flynn and Kyle Beattie from their natural positions at wing to center, where there’s an emphasis not only at making plays but on faceoff efficiency and on strong offensive and defensive play.

“Brian’s such a complete player, and I was very confident he could handle that switch,” Whitehead said. “He’s a natural winger, but the way he plays center, he’s a natural center, too. Most importantly, he wanted to help the team. I talked to him last spring about the void and he was very receptive to growing as a player and helping the team.”

Less than a month into the season, Flynn admits he needs to shore up one area of his game: Faceoffs. In two games at North Dakota, the senior finished 4 for 18 on draws. But Flynn’s hot start — he has two goals and five assists in Maine’s first four games — isn’t just a result of a shift from left wing to center. It’s also after a summer of building muscle mass and bulk in order to withstand more physical play, and after an offseason of preparing to diversify his game.

At center, Flynn has quickly had to take on more defensive responsibilities in strengthening both the offensive and defensive side of his game.

“There’s definitely a lot more defensive zone work,” said Flynn, who spent half a season at center in his last year with the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs in 2007-2008. “Centers tend to be a little stronger, and are good down low in the d-zone. They’re good skaters, too. At wing, you’re used to catching more passes and getting in on the forecheck, but at center you need to be calmer up the middle, and be able to read the play.”

Ultimately, Whitehead believes that diversifying his hockey portfolio will pay career dividends.

“I’m confident Brian’s going to be playing a lot of pro hockey in the future,” Whitehead said. “This expands his game so he now can play center or wing. It expands his game tremendously. It gives him an opportunity to help our team this year, but it puts him in a stronger position for next season, when he’s playing pro hockey.

“He’s really grabbed the role and immersed himself in it. He’s not thinking of it as a temporary thing.”


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