ORONO – If Robby Dee had stuck to his original plan, there’s a chance he would be nowhere near Orono right now.

Dee, a senior center for the University of Maine men’s hockey team, committed to play at Maine in the spring of 2005 and figured he had the next five years of his life planned. He intended to play a year of junior hockey with Omaha of the United States Hockey League during the 2005-06 season, then join the Black Bears as a freshman left wing in the fall of 2006 and become a member of the graduating class of 2010.

But plans go awry and what Dee didn’t foresee was suffering a shoulder injury that caused him to miss nearly half of the 2005-06 season after he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum.

When he returned to Omaha’s lineup in the second half of the season, he played primarily on the third and fourth lines and didn’t have a chance to make an impact on offense.

“You have to dominate in the lower leagues before you can move up to college,” Dee said. “I told myself, ‘Spend another year to move into a scoring role.’

“It gave me more confidence, more strength and more experience.”

Because of his injury, Dee spent a second year playing junior hockey and deferred enrolling at Maine until the fall of 2007. It’s strictly conjecture but had he not been injured, he would have graduated from college last May, along with Kevin Swallow, Brett Carriere, Dave Wilson and David deKastrozza.

Instead, Dee went through a series of events that altered — and even enhanced — his role with the Black Bears. As a wing in his freshman and sophomore years, Dee was expected to create traffic in front of the net and provide a scoring touch.

But he moved to center last fall and became a two-way forward who is third in team scoring with nine goals and 13 assists in 22 games.

“When you’re playing center, you’ve really got to play good in the defensive zone if you want to keep on staying there, because you have so much responsibility, along with draws, too,” said Dee, who is from Plymouth, Minn. “It’s being more of a complete player, scoring goals and playing defense.

“I played wing all my life but you get more into the game (at center) and that’s kind of how I like it.”

Furthermore, he learned to appreciate and understand the value of patience. It aided his transition in his first two years at Maine, then aided his transition to a new spot on the ice.

In his first two seasons, Dee had seven goals and seven assists and struggled to forge his identity on the team.

But Maine Coach Tim Whitehead shifted Dee from left wing to center prior to his junior season, filling a hole left after Chris Hahn graduated.

“He’s very dependable defensively and electrifying offensively,” Whitehead said of Dee. “Moving to center allowed him to have the puck on his stick more and to play more defensively at the center of the ice.

“He has great courage at the net to take a cross-check or a slash and somehow bury a rebound in the middle of it all. He has the courage to do it and not to be penalized.”

In his second season at center on the second line, Dee gives the Black Bears a strong left-handed shot and has emerged as a faceoff specialist, despite the fact he is 25 for 61 on faceoffs (40.9 percent) in his last four games.

“Out of almost everybody, you’ve really seen the most improvement out of him,” team captain Tanner House said. “Year to year, you’ve seen him getting bigger, you’ve seen him getting stronger and just more assertive on the ice.

“He’s made a huge jump and he’s really solidified himself as a center. He’s added another element to his game.

“He’s becoming the kind of player that everyone knew he could be.”

And as for not following that plan he had set for himself nearly six years ago?

“If he’d graduated last year,” Whitehead said, “we’d be in a big hole.”

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

[email protected]