The adjustment from collegiate to professional hockey can be challenging. Players are bigger, stronger and unburdened by the pressure of academics.

For three Maine Mariners, the transition is a little easier because their new place of business is only an hour’s drive from the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, where they arrived as eager freshmen in the fall of 2014.

Defenseman John Furgele, center Michael McNicholas and left wing Jason Salvaggio shared a house with two other UNH students while in college. Furgele and Salvaggio now share an apartment in South Portland’s Redbank Village, where McNicholas lives with defenseman Garrett Cecere, who played at Hockey East rival Northeastern.

“We had a good group of guys in our class,” said McNicholas, whose 30 points (eight goals, 22 assists) are tops on the Mariners. “We still stay close.”

McNicholas assisted on the first Maine goal Sunday in a 4-2 loss to Adirondack before a crowd of 2,784 at Cross Insurance Arena. The loss was the third in three days for the Mariners coming out of the ECHL All-Star break.

After entering the weekend in third place in the seven-team North Division, they dropped to a tie for sixth with Worcester.

Salvaggio scored his eighth goal over the lost weekend and is fourth on the team with 21 points. McNicholas had three assists and Furgele two.

They are three of the seven from their recruiting class at UNH to be playing professional hockey.

Elsewhere in the ECHL, Shane Eiserman plays for South Carolina and Danny Tirone, a goalie, for Manchester. Andrew Poturalski and Warren Foegele, both of whom turned pro after their sophomore year at UNH, are playing for Charlotte of the AHL and the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, respectively.

Danny Briere, vice president of operations for the Mariners, said he and Coach Riley Armstrong didn’t go about constructing their roster to include former college teammates, but they did consider geography in their recruitment efforts.

“We looked at players from UMaine, Vermont and UNH,” Briere said. “These guys have played in the area. Maybe they liked it. Maybe they made some friends from around here and we thought that might give us an edge on getting some players. And also for the fans, we were hoping to get some names that maybe they’ve heard about from the area.”

Salvaggio, who grew up just south of Boston in Hanson, Massachusetts, said his parents make it to nearly every home game and he sees Wildcats fans in Portland. Last month, he and McNicholas returned to the Whittemore Center in Durham to watch UNH beat Bentley.

McNicholas grew up in Nevada but has lived in California since the age of 13. Furgele hails from outside of Philadelphia. After playing much of the first half with long, flowing locks, Furgele got his hair cut short earlier this month, after a trip to Newfoundland and Ontario.

“We didn’t really have too good of a trip to Canada,” Furgele said, “so I was like, you know what, switch ‘er up.”

With 42 games under their belt and another to come before they turn the calendar to February, the former Wildcats already have surpassed their busiest season in college, when none of them played more than 40 games.

“I think it’s a lot better,” McNicholas said. “It’s nice playing games all the time, and not having to practice five times a week, six times a week.”

Furgele, who transferred to Quinnipiac after his sophomore year at New Hampshire and sat out a year before finishing up his college career at the Connecticut school, said the importance of rest has become apparent with a 72-game regular season that stretches into April and beyond, should the Mariners embark on a lengthy playoff run.

“You need time for recovery,” he said. “Travel can be tough, but our travel hasn’t been that bad.”

That premise will be tested over the next two months, when the Mariners hit the road for games in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Utah, as well as quick trips to Manchester and Worcester.

Of the three, Furgele was the only player who signed with Maine prior to the season. Salvaggio, who played on the same line with McNicholas for more than two seasons at UNH and roomed with him all four years, signed with Maine’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and came to Portland after training camp in Hartford.

McNicholas opened the season with a pro team in Norway, but after 15 games decided to return and found a home with the Mariners in early November.

“Coming in as a new guy a couple months ago, it was nice already knowing them two,” he said. “Especially for a first-year pro, it was nice having guys that you played with in college together.”


Comments are not available on this story.