When the best of the best in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League laced up their skates on Sunday, Jan. 28, Lewiston native Ryan Guerin felt like an old-timer.

“I got to play in the All-Star game last year, too,” Guerin said. “It’s going really well this season. The team’s in second place in the division, too.”

It should surprise no one who knows Guerin, who has five goals and 15 assists for 20 points in 41 games so far this season, that he deflected the answer to the first question about himself back into praise for his team.

That’s one of the reasons Guerin was an All-Star, and one of the biggest reasons the 2005 St. Dom’s graduate has earned a scholarship to Hamilton College in New York, where he will also play hockey.

“The biggest quality we look for in our recruits is character,” long-time Hamilton coach Phil Grady said. “Everyone we spoke to about Ryan told us how good of a young man he is, and that’s one of the biggest things for us.”

Hockey skills, of course, also have a lot to do with it.

“We’ve been watching him for two years now,” Grady said. “We liked him two years ago, but he felt that a year’s worth of junior hockey would help him strengthen his game. Now, he’s one of our top recruits.”

After graduating as the captain of the Saints’ team, Guerin went to play for the Boston Bulldogs, one of the more respected junior hockey programs in the Northeast.

“Ryan does a great job on defense for us,” Bulldogs coach Mike Addesa said. “He’s just valiant out there. He competes hard on every shift in every game.”

Guerin earned a spot in last year’s Atlantic Junior Hockey League All-Star game, and his reputation – among many college coaches, but particularly at Hamilton – improved.

“He’s a smart hockey player,” Grady said. “He has an excellent mind for the game. He reads the ice well and he has a great work ethic. He has the total package.”

The Bulldogs won the AJHL championship last year, and finished the season with an overall record of 53-11-2-1.

But, because junior hockey has such a high turnover rate, the Bulldogs had to start from scratch this season.

Guerin emerged as a leader, one of a very few veterans returning from that stellar squad.

“Our turnover is so high because we’re the No. 1 college placement junior team in the U.S. and Canada the last 11 years,” said Addesa. “It’s difficult to maintain a high level of competition when you have so many kids coming and going, but Ryan is a great guy to have on a team like that. He has the leadership ability to help the younger guys out.”

The transition many of the new players are making is the same step up Guerin had to take.

“Playing defense wasn’t always the first priority at St. Dom’s,” Guerin said. “It was more about going out and scoring more than the other team to win the game. Here, it’s about not letting the other team score any. It’s definitely a lot more physical, too.”

And, Grady said, Guerin can expect more of the same next year, when he again becomes one of the younger players in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

“He’ll go right into the fire,” Grady said. “We’re graduating two defensemen this year, so the chance will be there for him. he’s a very strong skater and he should fit right in.”

Grady said Guerin will be on a weight program once summer break starts.

Meanwhile, he still has a season to finish with the Bulldogs. And an education to plan.

“I know that I’m never going to go pro,” Guerin said. “I wanted to get the best education I could get using hockey to get it. Hamilton is a small school, it fit everything that I wanted, both on the ice and academically.”

Guerin is the second student athlete from the area to play defense for Hamilton this decade. Josh Benson, an Edward Little High School graduate and former Travis Roy Award winner, also patrolled the blue line for Grady.

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