University of Maine defenseman Dawson Bruneski’s senior year didn’t get off to the start he wanted.
During an early October practice, a teammate’s shot broke his right pinky finger. He eventually had surgery and missed 14 games.
He returned to the lineup on Dec. 31 at Colgate and has played in all but one game ever since.
Bruneski is one of just two upperclassmen defensemen for the Black Bears, along with graduate student and captain Jakub Sirota. The other seven include two sophomores and five freshmen.
Bruneski isn’t flashy and he isn’t much of a point-producer. He has one assist in 14 games this season. He has a goal and six assists in 50 career games entering this weekend’s Hockey East series at the University of New Hampshire. But he does provide the Black Bears with a physical presence and he is solid, defensively.
“You can trust him to do the job,” Sirota said. “He is one of the best skaters on our team.”
Junior center and assistant captain Lynden Breen called Bruneski the “definition of Black Bear hockey.”
“He is what Coach [Ben] Barr and his staff preach. He always brings energy and a positive attitude. He is one of the hardest guys to battle in practice because of his competitiveness and toughness.”
Bruneski said that since the other defensemen bring more offense, he can bring intensity and physicality.
“I want to be hard to play against. I want to be a mean guy to play against so [opponents] don’t want to be on the ice against me,” Bruneski said.
“He’s one of our toughest guys. He’s great in the defensive zone,” said junior goalie Victor Ostman, who called him the team’s most physical defensemen. “He means a lot to us.”
Bruneski is also considered one of the fittest Black Bears.
“I love the gym. I love working out. That’s always been a big part of me,” said Bruneski, who also eats healthy and tries to get enough sleep. “It’s something I take pride in.”
With standout freshman defenseman Brandon Holt sidelined with a broken finger, Bruneski’s role will be expanded.
“He is going to have to pick up some of [Holt’s] minutes,” Barr said. “He has done a good job, especially on the penalty kill.
“He’s more of a stay-at-home defenseman. His puck skills are okay but you never worry about him falling down or getting outmuscled.”
Bruneski played in 22 games last season and had a goal and three assists.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound native of Camrose, Alberta, said he would like to start chipping in some offense and he feels he needs to do a better job getting pucks through from the point to the net.
The Black Bears are on a roll with an 11-5-2 record over their last 18 games following a 2-8-1 start.
They are 13-13-3 overall and 7-9-2 in Hockey East after going 10-33-6 and 8-27-4 in the previous two seasons combined.
“Since Coach Barr came in here, the big thing for us is getting back to the winning ways of the 1990s and building that kind of culture,” Bruneski said.
“You are starting to see the team really coming together,” he added. “We have been playing very, very well. We have put ourselves in position to potentially get home ice (for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs) if some things fall into place. So we just want to keep on our process.”