When Liam Pecararo visited the University of Maine, he anticipated the atmosphere at Alfond Arena and he was aware of the passion Maine hockey fans have for their team.

But he didn’t anticipate making a decision to join the Black Bears in the fall of 2014.

“Not this early,” said Pecararo, a high school freshman. “I didn’t expect to be one of the first (players born in 1996 to commit). It’s almost overwhelming. I’m ecstatic.”

At 14, Pecararo is believed to be the youngest player in the country to commit to a Division I hockey program for fall 2014. Pecararo, a forward, plays in the Boston Advantage program based in Hingham, Mass. He’s one of three players in the program to commit to the Black Bears, joining Cam Brown (2011) and Ryan Cloonan (2013 or 2014).

“We kind of expected it because (Pecararo) is one of the top kids in the country,” said Tim Lovell, owner of Boston Advantage Hockey and a former Maine hockey player. “I’d think he’s a top-five kid in his age group. Is it early to make a decision? It’s the way college hockey is going now.

“Last year you had (players born in 1995) who were committing in November, so it’s kind of the same age. It’s early, but that’s the way the sport is going. Do I agree with it? Yes and no.

“If you don’t get on a kid early, you’re going to lose them. I agree with that aspect, but I kind of disagree with it because you don’t know what will happen later on.”

Verbal commitments are not binding, and a recruit cannot officially sign with a program until the letter of intent signing period. NCAA coaches are prohibited from commenting on recruits until after receipt of a signed letter of intent.

Maine has received verbal commitments from a handful of 15- and 16-year-olds, including freshman forward Mark Anthoine of Lewiston, who committed as a 16-year-old in 2006, and Kevin Gagne, who committed as a 15-year-old in 2007 and now plays for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL.

“I understand the talk of, ‘how can you make a decision so young?’” said Allen Pecararo, Liam’s father and a skating instructor. “But he seems to know what he wants. Now he has to buckle down and work hard.”

Pecararo has one goal and 10 assists in 11 games this season with Boston Advantage’s Midget Major team and six goals and 19 assists in 25 games with its Midget Minor team. Allen Pecararo said his son plans to continue playing with Boston Advantage until his junior year in high school and then will decide on his next step, whether it’s playing for a higher-level amateur program or, if chosen, with the U.S. national team development program.

“Whatever I can do to better myself,” Liam Pecararo said.

If Pecararo remains on track to join the Black Bears in 2014, he would be eligible to sign with Maine in November 2013.

His commitment is hardly unique in Division I college sports. Last February, David Sills, a 13-year-old quarterback from Bear, Del., gave a verbal commitment to join the University of Southern California football team in the fall of 2015.

During the summer, an NCAA committee proposed legislation that would prohibit early verbal scholarship offers to students in all sports until July 1 prior to their senior year in high school. The legislation is expected to come up for a vote at the next NCAA meeting, scheduled for January in San Antonio.

“Other schools might do it because they want to get their program better,” Liam Pecararo said. “A lot of schools don’t agree with it but they have to do it because other schools are doing it.

“It’s different. You wouldn’t expect it. A long time ago, great hockey players (were) scouted when they were 18, not 15.”

Lovell was 18 when he agreed to play for the Black Bears in the fall of 1993. Back then, he explained, a player couldn’t commit to a college program until July 1 of his or her junior year.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more of it,” Lovell said. “Do I think it’s right? Not really. You’ll see more of it because of the fear of loss.”


Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be contacted at 791-6415 or at: [email protected]