University of Maine graduate student center Jack Quinlivan and Alaska's Payton Matsui race for the puck at Alfond Arena on Friday, January 7, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Jack Quinlivan had dealt with a lot in his two seasons as the University of Maine’s ice hockey captain.

More than most.

He led the Black Bears during its first pandemic season, in which COVID-19 restrictions at the state and university level forced the team to play all 15 regular season games on the road before hosting a lone home playoff game, which they lost. UMaine finished at 3-11-2.

Quinlivan decided to return as a graduate student and guide this year’s team, since the NCAA awarded all student-athletes an extra year of eligibility.

Then the man who recruited and coached him, UMaine head coach Red Gendron, died playing golf at the Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono on April 9.

Wins have been hard to come by this season as the Black Bears will take a 3-14-4 record, 1-10-2 in Hockey East, into a 7:30 p.m. home game Friday against Boston College (10-10-4, 5-7-3). But Quinlivan, who centers the fourth line and is one of the team’s best defensive forwards and penalty-killers, has been an integral part of helping the team adapt to unprecedented change during his tenure as captain.

“You just have to take things step by step,” said the gritty, hard-working Quinlivan. “There has been a lot to learn, a lot of life lessons. But dealing with new circumstances and how to handle them has been the exciting part.”

Quinlivan said he understands his role and tries to improve as a leader and a player every day.

“Being a leader, being in challenging situations is something I take pride in,” said the Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, native. “The team has done a pretty good job handling their emotions last year and into this season. We have to keep building and working hard. This is a good group of guys who have been through a lot. We’ve got to focus on the task at hand.”

He said the toughest challenge he has faced is the unanticipated coaching change this year. Ben Barr, a 39-year-old former associate head coach for NCAA champion University of Massachusetts, took over as head coach after Gendron’s death.

“I never realized how change can impact you mentally and physically and how you have to adapt to change,” Quinlivan said. “It’s a lot harder than people realize. You learn a lot about yourself when you are in an environment that forces you to adapt. But it makes you better as a person and as a player.”

Quinlivan has two assists in 19 games this season and now has four goals and seven assists in 112 career games.

“You couldn’t have had a better guy leading you through all the situations we’ve had between COVID and Red’s passing,” senior winger/center Adam Dawe said. “Jack goes out of his way to check on guys. We had a lot of guys in quarantine last year. He is really approachable.”

UMaine has gone a modest 2-3-2 in its last seven games and has been involved in 11 games decided by one goal or ended in a tie.

“Jack has it figured out. That is why he is our captain,” Barr said. “He is a mature kid. He can see the big picture. … He has been invaluable for us, especially for me as a new coach. He has helped me understand where the program is at and where the players are at.”

Quinlivan said there have been plenty of other leaders on the team including senior defenseman Jakub Sirota, sophomore linemates Lynden Breen and Donavan Houle and even freshmen, like defenseman David Breazeale and center Nolan Renwick.

“Jakub has taken his game to a new level on and off the ice; Lynden and Donavan have really developed and have figured out how to play at a high level and they lead by example and David and Nolan have great work ethics. They are setting the tone for years to come and it’s really cool to see. They are laying a great foundation,” Quinlivan said.

The Black Bears have 11 games left, all Hockey East games, and Quinlivan is expecting good things.

“I’m excited to see where this group is going. We haven’t played our best hockey yet but the tide is turning. We’re capable of putting together a good stretch and the whole team thinks that,” Quinlivan said.

“I feel blessed to be part of a school that takes pride in its hockey program. I’m going to embrace the next two months.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the year the photo was taken in the caption. The photo was taken on Jan. 7, 2022.