ORONO, Maine — Developing an academic foundation is essential for college athletes, especially freshmen.

Hockey is unique in that a significant percentage of freshmen who come to college will be returning to the classroom full time for the first time in a year or two.

Many of these students, who had already completed their high school educations, played junior hockey. This experience provides them with a much more extensive schedule against a higher level of competition.

Zach Glienke is the only one of the eight players in Maine’s incoming freshman class who played high school hockey last season. He played for Eagan High School in Minnesota where there was a 25-game regular season schedule.

The other seven freshmen played junior hockey and averaged 49 regular season games apiece.

In Maine, high school teams are allowed to play only 18 regular-season games.

Now, these athletes are returning to the world of academics, and for the third straight year, Maine’s freshmen hockey players have come to the school a month early to take classes to help them make the transition to college.

Former Maine assistant Dan Kerluke said the players took an on-line three-credit course in July at home and are taking another course this month. At the same time, they will also work out on and off the ice and get acquainted with the campus, the area and their freshman teammates.

Kerluke’s wife, Crissy, is the academic counselor/tutor coordinator at the university, and she works with the hockey team.

She monitors the players academic progress which includes a mandatory two-hour study period from 9:30-11:30 a.m. every weekday.

By taking two summer courses, the players have the option to take four classes a semester during the season rather than five in order to stay on track to graduate in four years.

Students need 120 credit hours to graduate and many take 30 credit hours per year over four years.

Under NCAA guidelines, student-athletes must take 12 credit hours per semester to be eligible.

“Crissy has been a great help,” said Josh Henke of Trenton, Mich. “Most of us have class together. I took a year and half off, so I’m working my way back into it.”

“It makes it a lot easier to come back in the fall knowing you only have to take four courses [a semester],” said Brady Campbell from Boenheim, Ontario. “It’s still quite a big jump from having taken two in the summer but at least we know what we’re getting ourselves into.”

“It makes a huge difference,” said Dan Kerluke, who had been out of school for two years before coming to Maine in 1997. He noted that juggling five courses and hockey can be overwhelming if you’re a freshman, especially if you had been out of school for a prolonged period of time.

“It’s really smart,” said Cam Brown of Natick, Mass. “This will help us get used to a structured schedule.”

Blaine Byron of Manotick, Ontario agreed, “By taking a couple of classes, we’ll know what to expect and what kind of work we’ll have to do during the year. This gets our feet wet and gives us a chance to get a feel for it.”

Even Glienke, who was in high school, said taking college courses is an adjustment from high school courses.

“It’s nice to get used to it and get some credits out of the way so we don’t have to load up during the season. We can focus more on hockey during the year,” said Glienke.

“I took a year off from school, so it’s definitely needed,” added Daniel Renouf of Pickering, Ontario.

When they aren’t involved in academics, the players have been practicing some three-on-three hockey, their skill improvement and working out in the weight room.

They have already developed a camaraderie.

“I’ve been a little bit surprised and thankful by how quickly everyone has come together [and bonded],” said Eric Schurhamer of St. Paul, Minn.

“I’ve got seven new best friends,” said Glienke.

“Every day we’re getting tighter and tighter as a group. It should be a fun freshman year,” said Henke.

The players did acknowledge that there were some anxious moments after former head coach Tim Whitehead and assistants Dan Kerluke and Bob Corkum were fired and replaced by Red Gendron and assistants Jay Leach and Ben Guite.

“It’s hard being recruited by the other coaches and showing up with new people here,” said Glienke. “But we talked to them Sunday night, and they’re all great guys, and their resumes are incredible. I’m looking forward to working with them and turning the program around.”

“It was a little nerve-wracking for sure. It was a little weird when it was happening. But I think it’s exciting, too. It’s an exciting change, and everybody is fired up about it. Our first meeting [with the coaches] was really good. They have a ton of experience,” said Brown. “We’re all anxious to get going.”

The players are living in a dorm, and Brown said one of the highlights has been the fact that “it’s all you can eat in the dining hall. That’s big for us.”

Brian Morgan of Windham, N.H., said he has already developed a fondness for Alfond Arena.

“I can’t wait to see it packed,” he said.