For UNH's Dylan Maller, A Year of Tragedy and Triumph
|Dylan Maller Makes NCAA Debut|
They're like scenes from a Frank Capra movie. A youngster tags along with his older brother to the alien world of an ice hockey arena in South Florida. Turns out the boy has a knack for the game and, as a teenager, pursues his dream in another warm weather arena outside Washington, DC. At 16, he earns an offer to play hockey and get a college education in New Hampshire. To prepare, the 6'1" defenseman journeys to the heartland - Kearney, Nebraska - to play in the top American junior hockey league. For the Floridian, as comfortable in ice skates as sandals, the future looks very bright indeed.
Then, the most unspeakable tragedy descends. The beloved older brother develops cancer and despite a brave battle, succumbs two months shy of his 23rd birthday.
Fast-forward to the holiday season, 2013. It's a few weeks after the end of Hanukkah and a few days after Christmas and the UNH Wildcats have travelled to the Gulf Coast for the Florida College Hockey Classic. About 15 years have passed since UNH freshman Dylan Maller learned how to skate with his brother Wade near their hometown of Parkland, Florida. Now, 125 miles across Florida from where he grew up, Dylan is set to make his NCAA debut in another Florida hockey arena.
Wade Maller passed away on July 31st. He is survived by brother Dylan, younger brother Austin (a high school lacrosse player) and their parents Mark and Heidi Maller. After the UNH win over the University of Nebraska-Omaha last Saturday night, Coach Umile explained that Dylan understandably had a difficult time after his brother's death and took the first semester off.
Before the tragedy, Dylan was set to join fellow freshman defenseman Matias Cleland in the UNH lineup. In his absence, the UNH coaching staff have often used a 5-man defensive rotation with seniors Eric Knodel and Justin Agosta, junior Trevor van Riemsdyk, sophomore Brett Pesce and Cleland. Sophomore Harry Quast has been worked into the rotation at times over the first 20 games of the season. In his first game in a UNH uniform on December 29th, Maller was paired with the veteran Agosta, as the Wildcats faced Princeton in the consolation game of the Florida College Hockey Classic.
When Maller committed to UNH over three years ago, he was touted as a skilled skater and offensive defenseman. His junior coach with the DC Capitals, Jason Kersner, provided this assessment back in 2010:
"Dylan is a fantastic skater both forward and backward and when you couple that with his size – and what his size is going to be – then you’ve got a player with not only college, but pro potential, too. He’s an offensive defenseman who sees the ice very well. He doesn’t overhandle the puck. He’s more a passer than a puck carrier.”I watched Dylan online a couple times last season when he was playing for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. Some of the notes I jotted down were "attacking, aggressive skater in his own zone", "very fast carrying the puck out of the zone", "plays physical in the corners and in front of the net" and "as a left-shot, spent time on both right and left defense". The Storm did not qualify for the USHL Playoffs and Maller played in his last game in mid-April 2013.
Given the extended layoff from competitive hockey and all that he has dealt with, Maller acquitted himself well in UNH's 3-2 victory over Princeton. In addition to firing two shots on goal and finishing with a +/- rating of zero, Dylan showed flashes of the skills that got him to Division 1 hockey. In this sequence, Maller (#4) absorbs a forechecker's hit along the backboards, comes away with the puck, initiates a rush out of the UNH zone, and advances into the Princeton zone like a winger:
This past Friday, in the first of two games against the University of Nebraska-Omaha at the Whittemore Center, Maller stepped his game up another notch. During this play, Dylan protects the front of the UNH net, anticipates a breakout, and jumps into the rush. This time, Maller becomes the left wing on a 2-on-1 break lead by Casey Thrush and tests the UNO goalie with a wrist shot:
Late in the second period, with UNH ahead 3-2, Dylan Maller posted his first NCAA assist in what turned out to be the game-winning goal by sophomore Dan Correale. Casey Thrush starts the play with a steal behind the UNO net and pass out to Maller at the left point. Dylan makes a touch/redirect pass to Justin Agosta on the right point. Agosta sets up Correale on the doorstep:
UNH defeated UNO 6-3 and Dylan Maller finished with a +2 rating. On Saturday night, UNH completed the sweep of UNO with a 5-2 win. Maller was a steady presence on defense and was not on the ice for either UNO goal. In the following sequence, Maller joins the offensive rush, carries the puck end-to-end, and drops a soft pass off to Casey Thrush for a shot on goal. Dylan then quickly gets back to defend against a UNO breakout. Once in the UNH zone, Maller covers his area and clears a UNO player away from the goal-mouth:
The young boy who walked out of the Florida sunshine and into the icy arena could not have imagined where the journey would take him. All he knew was he wanted to learn to skate with his big brother. After enduring hardships, both common and unimaginable, Dylan Maller has finally reached one of his intended destinations. He's back to playing the game he loves, this time for the fans of the University of New Hampshire.