The pattern for Connor Leen’s life was established at age 2.

His grandfather built an ice rink in his garden and Leen learned to skate there. He has an early memory of his parents bringing him to another rink where everyone was bigger than him. He started to cry and tried to leave the surface.

“They kept turning me around and putting me right back out there,” Leen remembered. “I was fortunate for that.”

Leen is a senior forward for the Maine hockey team, and he’s still being sent onto the ice with bigger people — without the fear these days. At 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, the native of Chester, New York, relies on his speed and grit to battle with hulking opponents. He is second on the team with 32 shots on goal and will be at it again Friday night at Boston University and Saturday at Boston College.

“I really look up to him,” said sophomore center Cam Brown, at 5-7 the only Black Bear who can literally make that statement. “He’s sort of been a mentor to me since I got on campus. The last three or four games, he’s been our best player for sure. He’s really picked up the level of the team. When he does something well, everyone on the bench notices and everyone’s play picks up off of him.”

Maine (3-7-1, 2-3 Hockey East) made it a point to recruit larger players this year, bringing in the likes of 6-3, 220-pound Mark Hamilton and Nolan Vesey at 6-2, 210. Brown and Leen said they didn’t take that personally, adamant that there’s still a place for the smaller player in hockey.

“Maybe there can only be a few little guys. I guess we bring down the team size a lot,” Brown joked. “We’re definitely not scared or worried about our size.”

Leen, the team’s most explosive skater after working with private coaches since age 4, proved his value at the outset of last Friday’s home game against BU. He flew down the right side of the ice and took a shot that bounced off the pads of goaltender Matt O’Connor, who didn’t have time to recover before Leen quickly backhanded the rebound over O’Connor’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead just 1:13 into the game.

As for Brown, he has put up a team-leading nine points and impressed his coaches enough with his defense to draw the primary assignment on Terrier freshman sensation Jack Eichel last week.

“There’s nothing more the crowd likes to see than when Brownie and Leener go into the corner with a 6-3 guy and they put them on their butt and they come out with the puck,” Maine assistant coach Ben Guite said. “We felt like we needed a little more size in order to not get pushed around by big teams like Notre Dame and Providence like we did late in the season. But those two guys are great players.”

Leen never backs away from a challenge. Guite said that frequently causes him to hold his breath while watching from the bench.

“So many times last year, I saw him get hit by bigger guys and I said, ‘That’s it, we just lost him for the season.’ But he’d get up, he’d straighten his helmet out, kind of check all the body parts and go right back out at 100 mph the next shift,” Guite said. “He’s got a fearlessness or a complete carelessness to his own safety.”

Brown isn’t as fast as Leen, but he’s becoming just as adept at finding space to work among the larger bodies. He has a quick initial three strides to help him.

Both skaters believe the Black Bears have been working hard, and that better outcomes are ahead. They have lost their last three games and face a daunting road trip, and Brown senses this weekend could be a turning point for his team, for better or worse.

“It could either be a start to something terrible or it could be a start to getting us on track. So we’re looking at the positive there,” he said. “If we go down and steal four points, it will get us going in the right direction. We need to hit, bang bodies. We have to play fast.”

That last part certainly has never been an issue for Leen.

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