With five goals and 12 assists in 22 games this season, University of Maine left wing Thomas Freel has already surpassed his freshman season output of two goals and 13 assists in 36 games. Anthony DelMonaco/Courtesy of UMaine athletics

You’re 8 years old and your family moves a continent away from everything you know, from Aberdeen, Scotland, to Ottawa, Canada. As you get to know the kids in your new neighborhood, you pick up a stick and join their game.

Thomas Freel

Fourteen years later, that game – ice hockey – is your game, and you’re holding down the left wing on the second line for one of the top college teams in America.

“I don’t know if I loved it because I loved the sport at the time, or if it just gave me the chance to make friends in Canada,” said Thomas Freel, a University of Maine sophomore forward. “It was definitely a rough couple of years, but once I got the hang of it, I fell in love with it.”

Freel’s family left Scotland when his father took a job as a professor at the University of Ottawa. Now 22, Freel is a key player on a Black Bears team looking to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a dozen years.

Maine, 16-4-2 and ranked No. 6 in the USCHO.com poll, plays Friday night at Northeastern and Saturday night at UMass.

With five goals and 12 assists in 22 games, Freel has already surpassed his freshman season output of two goals and 13 assists in 36 games. The highlight of Freel’s season is the two goals in 19 seconds he scored in the final minute of the second period in a 4-4 tie with Colgate on Jan. 6. The second, a short-handed goal, made it 3-3 and erased the Black Bears’ three-goal deficit.


Freel had a pair of assists in Maine’s most recent game, a 7-2 win over UMass Lowell on Jan. 20.

“He’s one year older, one year more mature. He’s a do-everything guy for us,” Maine Coach Ben Barr said. “It’s all based on how tough he is. We have a couple guys on the team like that, Donavan (Villeneuve-Houle) and Harrison Scott. Those guys, identity-wise, they do everything for you, and it call comes down to how hard they work.”

Hockey isn’t completely foreign to Scotland. Three of the 10 teams in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the top pro league in the United Kingdom, are based in Scotland. The Scottish National League, a pro league one step below the EIHL, has eight teams. Still, Freel had never been on skates until moving to Ottawa.

At first he played street hockey with kids in the neighborhood, learning the basics of stick-handling and hockey strategy. Freel spent a lot of time learning how to skate with his family, spending hours on the ice at a nearby pond. Freel recalled feeling nervous during his first tryout for a team.

“Everyone else had been skating for years, and I show up with my equipment with the tags still on them,” he said.

Freel worked at the game and continued to improve, earning a spot with the Ottawa Jr. Senators. Freel had 35 goals and 26 assists in 51 games in 2021-22, his final season with the Jr. Senators before joining the University of Maine.


“He’s a kid that’s always finding a way to try and get better. He’s a year older and he knows what to expect. Maybe his production has gone up a little bit because he knows the lay of the land now, and he’s just become a better player all around,” Barr said.

Freel has been the second-line left wing all season, skating alongside right wing Villeneuve-Houle and a pair of centers, Scott at first and more recently Lynden Breen, one of the team captains. Freel said he thinks being close friends with Villeneuve-Houle off the ice helps their chemistry on it, and Scott and Breen are playmakers who are fun to play with.

Freel credits his offseason work as a key to his improvement. As a freshman last season, the 5-foot-11 Freel played at 180 pounds. Now he’s 190, and that added muscle allows him to do things like fight off defenders and maintain control of the puck, like he did on his short-handed goal against Colgate.

“The whole environment we’re trying to build here at Maine is one of great improvement, a great culture. Just get a little bit better each and every single day. That’s something I’ve really tried to embrace,” Freel said. “Each day is a new day. Because of that, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot bigger, a lot stronger. Over the past year I think that’s helped translate to my performance on the ice.”

Freel isn’t the first Scottish-born player in the UMaine men’s hockey program. Twenty years ago, there was Colin Shields. A forward at Maine for three seasons, Shields earned Hockey East all-rookie team honors in 2002 after totaling 29 goals and 17 assists. In 2004, Shields was named second team all-Hockey East with 18 goals and 26 assists. In his three seasons, Shields totaled 61 goals and 56 assists, and helped the Black Bears reach the national championship game in 2002 and 2004. He’s a player Freel is eager to emulate.

“Unfortunately I’ve never met (Shields), but my first couple days here at college, they mentioned him. They mentioned how amazing he was,” Freel said. “He’s a bit of a living legend. I walk past his little mural on the wall here every day, so I would be honored to meet him at some point.”

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