By: Greg Levinsky
PORTLAND, Maine – Drew Melanson shelled out over $70,000 to obtain his master’s degree and skate for the Boston University men’s ice hockey team last year. Now, he’s getting paid to play.
Melanson skated on the top line for the Maine Mariners in the franchise’s inaugural contest and collected an assist before a crowd of 5,291 at the Cross Insurance Arena. Much larger than the 6-3 loss to the Adirondack Thunder, Melanson’s living a childhood dream.
“I think we all want to advance to the next level and the level after that,” Melanson said. “But at the end of the day, if I’m looking back at my 10, 11, 12-year-old self, and I was able to say I’d be a professional hockey player, I probably would have signed up for that.”
A member of the 2018 Hockey East Championship Team, Melanson spent one season with the Terriers as a graduate transfer. He arrived on Commonwealth Avenue after a three-year career at Rensselaer.
Melanson earned his undergraduate degree from Rensselaer after his junior season, and therefore did not have to sit out a year upon transferring. Melanson was on an athletic scholarship at Rensselaer, but not at BU.
“The last four years, all I’ve had is the cloud of school kind of over my head,” Melanson said. “I did accelerate. I was fortunate enough to get two degrees. While it was great, it was a ton of hard work and more than that, the volume of work was a ton.”
The Mariners are a re-make of a team of old as the new ECHL franchise boasts the namesake of a prior Portland American Hockey League (AHL) franchise. Gone are the orange and black of the old Mariners. Now the team sports an ocean themed blue, green and white sweater.
— Greg Levinsky (@GregLevinsky) October 13, 2018
The original Mariners operated at the then Cumberland County Civic Center from 1977-1992. After a year without a team, the Portland Pirates competed in the AHL from 1993-2016. The new-look Mariners took over this year.
Portland went without professional hockey for two seasons before the new Mariners franchise came into being. A step below the AHL, the ECHL is the ‘AA’ affiliate of the National Hockey League (NHL).
Professional hockey returned to Portland. The seed was initially panted when Comcast Spectacor purchased the ECHL membership of the Alaska Aces. Spectacor also owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, and their staff was instrumental in moving the team to Portland even though they are affiliated with the Rangers.
Maine’s parent NHL club is the New York Rangers, and their AHL affiliate is the Hartford Wolf Pack. The Rangers are guided by former BU men’s hockey head coach David Quinn, Melanson’s coach at BU.
“We have a very good relationship,” Melanson said. “I’m sure we’ll keep in touch from time to time, but he’s got a pretty big job. I’ll let him tend to that.”
Originally from Paramus, New Jersey, Melanson collected 43 points on 17 goals and 26 assists at Rensselaer. He got acquainted to the high-caliber Hockey East quickly, as Melanson lit the lamp six times and assisted on 13 goals in his lone campaign with the Terriers.
Melanson closed his Terrier career on a tear. He scored five goals and had four assists in his final nine Terrier appearances, thanks in part to sharing a line with current NHL players Jordan Greenway and Brady Tkachuk.
His strong end to the college season caught the eyes of professional scouts, and helped the 23-year-old glean “confidence” in the pursuit of a professional career.
After the season ended Melanson inked an amateur tryout agreement (ATO) with Wolf Pack. He played in five games and recorded an assist.
“I was able to grow a lot confidence in myself, know that I can play at a high level with high level guys” Melanson said. “Going to the AHL, one of the best leagues in the world, the development league for the NHL and gaining confidence.
“Just trying to carry all that momentum that’s going in a positive direction into this year.”
Melanson spent mini camp with the Rangers on a tryout opportunity and was assigned to Hartford again before being sent to Maine.
One game into his full professional season career, Melanson has at least 71 more regular season contests to suit up for, nearly double the college season. Playing hockey is now Drew Melanson’s full-time job.
“Just to have hockey as my focus, at least for this year, is awesome,” Melanson said.
Greg Levinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GregLevinsky