University of Maine freshman defenseman Brandon Holt has scored two goals and earned two assists in the team's first five games of the 2022-23 season. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

It is a huge jump from playing junior hockey to suiting up for a Division I college team.

But University of Maine freshman defenseman Brandon Holt has adapted nicely so far.

“The guys are definitely bigger, faster and stronger. You don’t realize how much until you get here and play. Everything is harder,” said Holt, who previously played for the New Mexico Ice Wolves in the North American Hockey League. “When you make mistakes, guys punish you for it. They’ll put the puck in the back of your net.”

Through UMaine’s first five games, Holt has two goals and two assists for four points, and is tied for the team lead in goals, plus-minus (plus-2) and blocked shots (6) and is tied for second in points.

A player receives a plus-one when he is on the ice when his team scores an even-strength or shorthanded goal and a minus-one if the other team scores one.

Holt’s performance has impressed second-year UMaine head coach Ben Barr.

“He is really steady and coaches appreciate that in a defenseman,” said Barr. “He’s really good, defensively. He’s tough. He moves really well. He’s agile. He can make a pass, and he can shoot the puck. There’s nothing flashy about it.”

Barr uses him in all situations: even-strength, power play and penalty kill.

“Every game I feel better and better and more confident,” Holt said. “I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, a big thing for me, personally, is that I play way better when I’m confident.”

Barr said Holt has earned his playing time.

“You get what you deserve,” said Barr. “We’re at a point where we have four or five freshmen defensemen every night so whoever deserves to play will be in there.”

Holt’s college career got off to a nice start when he snapped a wrist shot through a screen that turned out to be the game-winning goal in a season-opening 4-1 win over Air Force in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

He assisted on the first two goals in the 4-0 win over No. 3 Quinnipiac and had a power play goal the next night that tied the game in a 6-2 loss to Quinnipiac.

Barr said Black Bear assistant coach Jason Fortier deserves credit for landing Holt. Fortier coached against him in the NAHL when he was behind the bench for the Odessa Jackalopes.

“[Fortier] really went to bat for him. We were fortunate. He’s a guy a lot of teams would like to have right now,” Barr said.

Holt, a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota, said Fortier contacted him and told him about the program and high standards they were trying to build at UMaine.

“I wanted to be a part of it. It was a pretty easy decision,” Holt said.

Sophomore right winger Cole Hanson, a transfer from Colgate University, grew up with Holt in Grand Forks and said he hasn’t been surprised by his teammate’s early success.

“I’ve been playing with him since we were squirts (9-10 age group),” Hanson said. “He sees the ice really well, he has solid skills and he battles really hard every night.”

Hanson said Holt’s skating has improved dramatically over the past two years.

“He is so much faster and more powerful now. He pulls away from guys in the neutral zone,” Hanson said. “He has really good feet and he uses them to get shots on goal. He has done it multiple times every game.”

The 21-year-old Holt credited UMaine sports performance coach Codi Fitzerald for helping him improve his speed.

“We were here in the summer and Codi got us in real good shape. We were doing all the right kinds of workouts. It’s a result of the work put in not only by me but also by everyone else around here,” said the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Holt, who captained the New Mexico Ice Wolves last season and had 13 goals and 22 assists in 57 games.

Holt grew up following the University of North Dakota, but he also remembers watching the Frozen Four and seeing Maine compete.

He wasn’t recruited by the University of North Dakota, which he called a “blessing in disguise.”

“It’s a good thing for me to get out of my comfort zone, getting an opportunity to come out here with a bunch of new people and getting away from home,” Holt said.

The Black Bears will entertain Hockey East preseason coaches poll favorite Northeastern in their league-opening series on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m.

UMaine is 2-3 overall while the Huskies are 3-2-1 overall and 2-2 in league play.