Former University of Maine All-American defenseman Eric Weinrich from Gardiner was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday, after an impressive Black Bear, U.S. Olympic team and 1157-game National Hockey League career. The second-round draft pick — No. 32 overall — of the New Jersey Devils racked up 70 goals and 318 assists during his NHL career.

Weinrich answers questions from the BDN’s Larry Mahoney in a Q-and-A format.

Q: You are one of just eight Mainers who have played in the National Hockey League and the only one who has played in over 102 games. Why have there been so few?

A: After that little run we had in the mid-’80s to mid-’90s, quite a few players went Division 1. It put Maine on the map. Something happened. Around that time, the (number of) high school teams expanded. A lot of those (hockey) hotbeds where there had been one of two teams expanded to six or 10 teams in those areas. It watered down the talent level. Now, after talking to a lot of people, it seems to me that kids who are really interested in going to the next level almost have to go out of state to play on junior teams, and I’m not sure a lot of kids are ready to pick up and leave home before going to college. It’s a tough thing. Hopefully, with guys like [Biddeford native and Boston College All-American] Brian Dumoulin [Pittsburgh] and Jon Gillies [South Portland, Providence College, Calgary Flames], that will spark things. Maybe you’ll get some new arenas in different areas. More kids will be play. It’s hard to pinpoint why there have been so few guys [make it to the NHL from Maine]. It seems like participation is way up.

Q: Do you see that trend changing?

A: I don’t want to undermine anybody who volunteers to coach or helps out with the youth programs, but in other countries they hire professional coaches. It’s pretty much their full-time job. That model doesn’t work here. The more experienced the coaches and the instructors we have in any sport leads to better athletes.

Q: What does it mean to be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame?

For any Maine native — and I’m not a native [born in Roanoke, Virginia] but I feel like an adopted native — to be recognized in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame is a great honor. For anybody who has been involved in athletics, it is a feather in your cap. I haven’t won too many awards or been inducted into any Halls of Fame. For me, this is one of the most special honors I’ve ever received as an athlete.

Q: You played in 1,157 NHL games for eight teams. What are your fondest memories?

A: In 17 years, I had a lot of great memories. My first real call-up with New Jersey [was special]. It was a game in Maple Leaf Gardens. You couldn’t pick a better place to play your first game. The crowd was exciting. I probably played six minutes, but I felt like I played 60 minutes. I was on cloud nine. Seeing all the guys on the ice I had watched my whole life and knowing I was out there with them was the thrill of a lifetime. Another moment in my career I’ll never forget was I think I was the first American-born player to wear the C [captain] for the Montreal Canadiens. I wasn’t actually the captain. Our captain [Saku Koivu] was hurt and they passed it down to me for a week or two. When you look at all the pictures they have in the arena of all the past teams and who their captains were, it was pretty humbling. You were trying to follow in the tradition of some of the greatest players in the history of the game. It was really cool. I was lucky. I had a couple of pictures taken of me wearing the C, so people knew it happened.

Q: Who were major influences in your career?

A: Definitely as a young kid it was my dad [Jack]. He taught me the ins and outs of what he knew from his sports career. He was more of a football-basketball-baseball player, but anyone who has been involved in sports knows what it takes to to improve your skills. He definitely started me on that path as did my mom [Sandra]. I owe both of them a lot. From my high school days [at North Yarmouth Academy], my coach, Ed Good, taught me as much as anybody. He taught me the finer points of the game — how to carry yourself as a person and what to say to the media. Little things like that are things you wouldn’t think would help you but every time one of those situations came about, I was ready for it. I owe a lot to him, and I still keep in touch with him. Then there was [late Maine coach] Shawn Walsh. What can you say about the guy? Going to the University of Maine was the farthest thing from my mind. But from the moment I met him, there was almost no chance I was going anywhere else. He was really passionate about what he was doing. He couldn’t skate a lick, but he was a great teacher of the game. He prepared me better than anyone for playing at the next level. And once I got to the pro game, the guy who made the biggest difference for me was my first coach, Tom McVie, in Utica [AHL]. He maybe didn’t teach me as much about hockey as he taught me and everyone else how to be a pro. It went from being prepared for games to taking care of yourself off the ice. Those things stuck throughout my whole career. If I’m coaching and talking to young kids, the things he taught me are still important today.

Q: If you could do anything over again, what would you do?

A: When I think back on that, when I was a young kid, everything was so new in the game to me. It took me a while to realize what it took to be successful. I was happy with being there [NHL]. But I didn’t handle it the right way. I could have listened more to the guys I was playing with. I played with at least 10 Hockey Hall-of-Famers. If I could go back, I would have learned things from them and applied them when I was a lot younger.

Q: How did your time at the University of Maine pave the way for your NHL career?

A: I was kind of uncertain what was going to happen when I went to the University of Maine, whether I was going to leave with a degree after four years or leave after one year. When I got drafted before going up there, my goal was to play for the Olympic team and hopefully have a pro career. When I got to the university, I really wanted to win a national championship, and we had the coach who could do that, too. Like I said before, every day I was on the ice I learned something from the coaching staff. They helped me move on to the next level. I was able to play in numerous situations, and I got a lot of ice time. I took that all in. I probably majored in hockey more than anything in the classroom at Maine. I ended up doing all I wanted to do. From all of the experiences Shawn had at Michigan State, you look at the numbers of players who went on to become pros. He knew what it took to get a guy prepared for the next level. He had a lot of success, winning games, winning championships. The success he had helped guys get to the next level.

Q: If you hosted a dinner party and could invite three people, living or dead, who would they be?

A: It’s hard to narrow that one down. I have always been a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve heard him interviewed a few times. It would be real interesting to sit down for a couple of hours with him and talk to him face to face. He would definitely be one. Even though he crushed me, Lance Armstrong was also a hero of mine. I couldn’t believe he would do it [doping] and deny it. After I heard what he did and how he treated people, it was heartbreaking to me — I’m a huge cycling fan — but he is still an intriguing person and I would like to sit down with him some time. This one might be surprising, but our family has been to Europe a bunch of times — especially to Italy — and I’m a pretty big fan of art and of Leonardo da Vinci and what he did. It would be real interesting to have a talk with him. And I’d like to add one more: Russian hockey coach Anatoli Tarasov. He was the father of Russian hockey before [Viktor] Tikhonov took over. He introduced all these crazy training techniques. He had these systems with players moving all over the ice, criss-crossing. It would be fascinating to hear about his philosophies.

Q: If you had to choose another profession outside of hockey, what would you choose?

A: I have become a huge fan of pro cycling. That is pretty much my passion besides hockey. If I don’t ride my bike or do a bike race, I’m pretty grumpy. I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant. And maybe be a chef. Another is to be a farmer.

Q: What would be a perfect 24 hours for you?

A: It would start with winning the Stanley Cup in the wee hours of the morning — a triple overtime game. Then I would jump on a plane to Italy with my family and my bike. I’d go for a ride in the countryside. And then I drive to the Amalfi Coast [in Italy]. And I’d like to spend time with my whole family preferably at home on Cousins Island.

Q: What is on your bucket list?

My wife [Tracy], kids [Ben and Emily] and I really enjoy traveling. We’d definitely like to see more of the United States. I’d like to go the Far East someday. I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language. I’d start with Italian. And I’d like to write a book, probably about my career and the people I met as a player.