A.J. Drobot of the University of Maine changes direction to pursue the puck during a recent game in Orono. The freshman center has proven himself a dependable performer late in games for the Black Bears. Credit: Courtesy of Peter Buehner

Many players will tell you their hockey careers were influenced by older brothers.

Instead, A.J. Drobot of the University of Maine has been positively impacted by his sister, Amanda.

She played in 145 career games at the University of Vermont before graduating in 2018.

“I think she is tied for playing in the most career games at Vermont,” the proud younger brother said. “She just got a job as a women’s hockey director for a travel program in New Jersey. She will be real good at it. She knows the game as well as anybody.”

Drobot said his sister has been incredibly influential on his career since the days when they played against each other during intermissions of Philadelphia Flyers games.

“She was way better than me when we were young,” Drobot said. “We had a lot of wars in the basement. We used to play miniature hockey. We had these mini sticks. She would be the goalie and I would shoot on her until I scored a certain amount.

Drobot, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound native of Churchville, Pennsylvania, is putting those lessons to work at UMaine.

The freshman has already earned the trust of Black Bears head coach Red Gendron.

Even protecting a one-goal lead late in a game, Gendron doesn’t hesitate to put Drobot on the ice.

“[Gendron] trusts him,” said senior right wing Ryan Smith, who is usually Drobot’s linemate. “He’s good in the faceoff circle and the [defensive] zone.”

Senior center Tim Doherty said Drobot has been a perfect third-line center. He works hard and is a good teammate.

“I would put his line out there against anybody,” Gendron said.

Drobot also started has to put up some points, notching a goal and three assists over his last six games among four goals and five assists in 32 games.

The Black Bears play a crucial Hockey East game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Providence.

Drobot said having earned the trust of Gendron and the coaching staff to be used late in close games means a lot.

“The most important thing is we have a job to do. It’s to win the faceoff and clear the puck. We’re not trying to score an empty net goal. We’re trying to preserve the win and get the two points. That’s our mission,” he said.

In addition to playing a regular shift, Drobot is a valuable penalty-killer and he takes pride in that role. He places a premium on being defensively responsible.

He plays on a line with Smith and junior Eduards Tralmaks, or sometimes others.

“We’ve been clicking well,” said Drobot. “Everyone has bought into the system really well.”

He said that line’s attention to detail on defense has helped it generate scoring chances.

“He is a terrific competitor,” Gendron said. “He is a coach’s type of player. He handles all the details really well all the time.”

Gendron said Drobot’s speed, intensity and understanding of the game have helped him become a 200-foot center iceman.

“He’s a natural leader and he plays tough,” junior defenseman Cam Spicer said.

Drobot was recruited by UMaine associate head coach Ben Guite several years ago and said it didn’t take him long to decide to come to UMaine.

“I loved the people … It felt like the right place for me,” he said.

Drobot said it took him some time to adjust from playing for the Fargo Force with UMaine teammate Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup to Division I college hockey.

“There is always a learning curve when you jump to a new level,” he said.

With only two games left in the regular season, just nine points separate the top nine teams vying for eight playoff spots in Hockey East.

So every game is like a playoff game.

“We’re taking it day by day,” Drobot said.