University of Maine men's ice hockey center Lynden Breen in a recent 2021 game.Anthony DelMonaco Credit: Anthony DelMonaco / UMaine Athletics

It would have been easy for Lynden Breen to play for the team he idolized growing up.

The University of Maine hockey team’s sophomore center grew up in Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick, just five minutes away from Saint John, home of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs.

He looked up to players like Jonathan Huberdeau, who has gone on to amass 531 points in 620 games for the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers.

Breen was drafted by the Sea Dogs but he had already verbally committed to attend the University of Maine and he stuck to his commitment.

Breen had played for the Sea Dogs’ Under-15 and Under-18 teams but those were amateur teams.

The QMJHL Sea Dogs are considered a professional team in the eyes of the NCAA because the players receive monetary compensation so they aren’t eligible to play U.S. college hockey.

Breen said he had a coach in New Brunswick who used to take him to tournaments in the United States and he wound up leaving New Brunswick to attend New Hampton Prep School in New Hampshire and play hockey there in 2016-17.

He spent a couple of years there before moving on to the Central Illinois Flying Aces and the Fargo Force in the United States Hockey League, one of the top breeding grounds for NCAA Division I players.

In his final season with the Force, he had 18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points in 45 games and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

He said his decision to move to the United States and go the college route instead of the Quebec Major Junior path was the result of him wanting to try something new.

“If I had stayed in Saint John, maybe things could have been better in some situations. But, then again, I don’t regret it one bit. I love it here. This is where I want to play and this is where I want to win,” Breen said.

Breen has been an impactful player ever since he has been at UMaine.

He was the team’s second-leading scorer in the abbreviated 2020-21 season with three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 16 games and he is tied for the team lead in points this season with two goals and six assists for eight points in 17 games.

The tenacious and swift-skating Breen plays in all situations and is among the team leaders in ice time.

He will be one of the building blocks of the future for first-year coach Ben Barr.

“He does everything for us and he never gets tired,” Barr said. “You can put him out there for 25 minutes a game and, for a forward, that’s a lot. He is in great shape.”

“He plays with a lot of energy and he gives the whole team a spark,” said UMaine captain and center Jack Quinlivan. “He has become a focal point of the team. He is going to be a great leader the next couple of years.”

The fearless Breen, who plays much bigger than his 5-foot-9, 168-pound frame, said he feels he has taken a “huge step” the past few weeks.

“I expected a lot from myself at the beginning of the season and things weren’t coming. I wasn’t producing a lot. I’m still not producing a whole lot but it’s coming. I’m getting more pucks to the net, I’m getting to the net more. I’m getting more confident in my game,” Breen said. “I know if I keep that up, a couple will go in for me.”

“He works real hard and he’s quick,” said senior winger Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup. “He’s a hard guy to handle in the corners. He’s very shifty. It’s not easy to keep up with him.”

The 20-year-old Breen and the rest of the veterans have had a lot to overcome. They had to play all 15 of their regular season games on the road last season due to COVID-19 restrictions and head coach Red Gendron died unexpectedly in April so they had to adapt to a new coach this season in Barr.

They have struggled to the tune of a 2-11-4 record but will take a three-game unbeaten streak (1-0-2) into a two-game home series against Alaska (Fairbanks) on Jan. 7-8.

“Coming in here knowing what a great hockey school it was, it is and that it is going to be and to have all that happen was like getting hit in the face,” Breen said. “But we have such a bright future. There are so many positive signs to look forward to.”