If you saw Keenan Suthers in street clothes and were told he was a college athlete, hockey probably wouldn’t be the sport you thought he played.
That’s because he is 6-foot-8.
He is the tallest player in the history of the University of Maine’s hockey program dating back to its inception in 1977. He is an inch taller than former goalie Ben Bishop and defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin.
And the graduate student takes a good bit of razzing from opposing fans who ask him why he isn’t playing basketball instead.
“I hear that a lot. I just shrug it off,” said Suthers, who transferred to UMaine from St. Lawrence University (New York) a year ago.
He played basketball and volleyball in high school before joining the United States National Team Development Program in Michigan for hockey.
Suthers had to sit out last season because of the old NCAA transfer rule that forced student-athletes to sit out a year if they transferred from one Division I school to another in certain sports, including hockey.
Now student-athletes are allowed to transfer once without having to sit out.
Suthers was still able to practice with the team a year ago and he made his UMaine debut in a season-opening 4-1 loss at Nebraska Omaha but missed the second game due to illness.
He was back in the lineup for the home-opening 1-0 loss to Sacred Heart (Connecticut) on Friday night and scored the game-tying goal off an Adam Dawe assist with 3:45 remaining in Saturday’s 3-3 overtime tie against the Pioneers.
It was his second time playing on opening night at Alfond Arena, but the first time playing for the Black Bears. Suthers played in the 2018-19 opener at Alfond for St. Lawrence in a 3-1 UMaine win.
“It was nice to have the fans on my side this time. It was pretty cool. It was even better than I remembered,” Suthers said.
He was happy he was able to score an important goal for the Black Bears.
The last time he scored was on Feb. 21, 2020, for St. Lawrence in a 5-2 loss to Dartmouth College.
“It felt great. It had been a while since I scored. I forgot what the feeling was like,” Suthers said.
First-year UMaine head coach Ben Barr is looking for good things from his center.
“He can bring a lot to our program,” said Barr, who thought Suthers played well in both Sacred Heart games. “He has so much potential. He is a very good player who could become a way better player and play this game for a long, long time.”
Suthers’ challenge with his size, Barr added, is his balance. “If he goes down, it takes him a lot longer to get up than a 5-foot-4 guy.”
Senior defenseman Simon Butala faces him in practice and said “I’ve never played against anyone like him. He is strong, he has a long reach and he is as skilled as anyone in our league.”
Suthers, who weighs 245 pounds, said he has always been one of the tallest players on his teams and said there are a “lot of pluses” to being his size.
“You have to be able to skate well because today’s game is so fast. If you can’t keep up, your size won’t be a factor. But if you can combine the two, you have a good chance to be successful,” Suthers said.
He said his skating has improved a lot since he has been at UMaine and he has more confidence with the puck. He also said he has a reach advantage over smaller players, but that those players do have an advantage in puck battles because they are lower to the ice.
Suthers, who spent two seasons playing for the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-17 and Under-18 teams before playing in the United States Junior Hockey League, had 16 goals and 18 assists in 97 career games at St. Lawrence.
He was the team’s leading goal scorer in his last season (2019-2020), collecting nine goals to go with five assists in 31 games.
The Tecumseh, Ontario, native said he wants to continue to develop his game so he can have a fruitful pro career but he added that for the time being, he just wants to help the Black Bears win hockey games.