Last season in practice, Tim Doherty took risks, unafraid of making mistakes. So what if he failed? What were the coaches going to do, bench him?

Doherty, 22, a forward for the University of Maine hockey team, had to sit out of every game last season because of NCAA rules regarding transfers from another Division I school.

Doherty, who had attended Brown University, was allowed to practice last year. When the Black Bears played, he could only watch.

“It was definitely tough not being in the games,” he said by phone this week. “Once you get over that part, you focus on your game … you don’t have to be nervous about messing up. You can take chances.”

Doherty “worked his tail off,” said Maine Coach Red Gendron. “It’s not an easy thing to do, to just practice every day. He used his time wisely … and we’re being rewarded.”

Maine is 6-0-1 in its last seven games and Doherty has at least one point in each of those games. The Black Bears (10-7-1, 4-4-1 in Hockey East) head south this weekend for a Saturday conference game at Boston University (8-10-1, 6-6-1), and a Monday nonleague game at Brown (5-8-1).

Doherty shares the team’s scoring lead of 15 points (seven goals and eight assists) with Mitch Fossier (6-9-15). His recent efforts earned him Hockey East Rookie of the Month for December.

A 22-year-old rookie?

Doherty left Brown after only two months of his freshman year – for reasons he keeps to himself – and returned to junior hockey. He enrolled at Maine in the fall of 2016. Academically, Doherty is a sophomore but, in terms of athletic eligibility, he’s a freshman.

“We’ll have him for three more years,” said Gendron, who savors the idea of an experienced, heady player. “He’s really smart. A lot of hockey sense. He is always learning.”

Doherty watched and learned last year. This season, he sat out only one game. After Maine’s embarrassing 7-0 loss to BU in Portland on Nov. 18, Gendron tweaked the lineup and Doherty sat during a 3-0 loss to Providence.

“(Gendron) was just trying to shake a few things up. I watched the game up top and learned a couple of things,” Doherty said.

Doherty is producing as the center of Maine’s top line with Nolan Vesey (seven goals, four assists) and Patrick Shea (three goals, six assists).

Doherty has known Vesey – and Maine goaltender Rob McGovern – from their youth hockey days. They convinced him to try Orono after Brown.

“They kept talking about the atmosphere and how much they loved it up here,” Doherty said.

This weekend offers a lot of motivation. First, there is rival BU; the teams have split two games with this season.

Then a return to Brown for Doherty, a Portsmouth, Rhode Island, native.

“It will be nice to come back to my home state,” Doherty.

“But, first and foremost, we want to win.”

Although they are tied for seventh in Hockey East with nine points, the Black Bears have played fewer league games (nine) than the four teams directly ahead of them – Providence (13 points, 11 games) BU (13 points, 13 games), UMass-Lowell (12 points, 12 games) and Connecticut (11 points, 14 games).

The Black Bears are tied for the lead in offense among Hockey East teams with 3.44 goals per game.

But Maine is also ninth in team defense, allowing 3.11 goals a game.

Last weekend, Maine was without No. 1 goalie Jeremy Swayman, who is playing for the U.S. team in the world juniors championship in Buffalo, New York.

McGovern was in goal for a sweep of RPI (3-2 and 5-2).

Swayman is expected to rejoin the Black Bears late Friday night or early Saturday.

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