Falmouth’s Ben Freeman poses outside Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Monday after signing with the ECHL’s Maine Mariners. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Growing up in Falmouth, Ben Freeman would often go to Cross Insurance Arena – then known as the Cumberland County Civic Center – with his family to watch the Portland Pirates or University of Maine play hockey.

This winter, he hopes to be skating on the ice, along with one of his childhood friends.

Freeman, 24, signed a contract with the Maine Mariners on Monday, joining Cumberland’s Ted Hart on the ECHL team’s roster. Freeman, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound center, just finished his career at the University of Connecticut.

“It’s really exciting,” said Freeman, standing outside the entrance to the arena. “I don’t think I ever expected to play in this building. It’s going to be an honor.”

He was also excited at the possibility of playing with Hart. The two played on the same line in Casco Bay youth hockey up until Freeman left Falmouth High after two years to play at the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. They have remained life-long friends.

“I couldn’t be more happy that Teddy’s on the team,” said Freeman. “And he’s going to show me the way.

“It gives me some confidence too, knowing that I’ll be able to lean on Ted if I have questions. If I’m down on luck or confidence, he’ll be right there to pick me up. I’m excited about that situation.”

Hart played at Yale and last year became the first Maine native to play for the Mariners. He re-signed with them in June.

“I’m pretty fired up about this,” said Hart, who scored 10 goals and added eight assists last year for the Mariners. “I can’t wait for the season to start and, hopefully, we’ll get to play together again.”

Ben Freeman led the University of Connecticut in scoring last season with seven goals and 21 assists. He did not pick up a single penalty in 33 games. University of Connecticut Athletics

Freeman had a standout career at Connecticut, last year leading the Huskies in scoring with seven goals and 21 assists. His senior year ended as Connecticut was about to begin a Hockey East quarterfinal playoff series against UMaine in Orono.

“We were legit on the bus and had to stop and turn around,” he said. “I was really excited about playing Maine. I thought it was a good match-up for us. But unfortunately this happened. You just had to roll with it.”

The one statistic that jumps out at you from Freeman’s senior year is that, amazingly, he did not pick up a single penalty minute in 33 games. He was awarded the Hockey East Len Ceglarski Award for Sportsmanship.

Freeman laughed at the notion that he played penalty-free.

“Sneaky,” he said. “You’ve got to know when to take the penalties and when to hide it.”

Asked if he, indeed, had committed any penalties that weren’t called, he said, “Oh yeah, for sure.”

That’s probably good news for Mariners head coach Riley Armstrong, who spoke to Freeman about the need to be more physical at the professional level. At 6-5, Freeman is sure to be challenged in the ECHL.

“I’m not saying he has to fight, but at the level you have to play on edge and with a little grit,” said Armstrong. “I’m not a coach to get on a player for taking a penalty, it’s going to happen. But he has to use his size to his advantage at the pro level and get in there. He’ll need to find that edge in his game and play to that edge.”

Freeman understands that. “I’m prepared to do whatever the team needs me to do,” he said. “I’ve seen some of these (ECHL) games and it is physical, but so is Hockey East. I’m well prepared and I’m training hard this summer and stronger than I’ve ever been before.

“I use my height to my advantage and the physicality, I invite it.”

Armstrong said there is much to like about Freeman’s game. He led Hockey East by winning 359 faceoffs and also blocked 20 shots.

“And I think we can get a lot more out of his offensive game,” said Armstrong. “Playing him down low where he can use his body.”

Armstrong said having two local athletes on the roster is a great way to lure fans into the building.

“I think the biggest component of professional minor leagues is the fan-to-player relationship,” said Armstrong. “I think when have those local guys, people know where they grew up and where they played high school hockey and how they won high school championships.

“Fans gravitate to those players. But this is not a charity case where we say, ‘Let’s sign those local guys.’ Ted Hart had an unbelievable season for us last year and we’re hoping that Ben steps in as a rookie.”

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