Maine’s Nault Ineligible For 2003-04

First Team All-Hockey East defenseman Francis Nault of Maine has lost an appeal with the NCAA and will be ineligible to play in what would have been his senior season in 2003-04.

The decision, the last in a series of appeals by Maine and Nault, concerns an appearance by him in two tournaments in the summer of 2000, after he had turned 21.

According to NCAA Bylaw, a student-athlete who competes in any outside competition after his or her 21st birthday and prior to his or her initial full-time enrollment in a collegiate institution, forfeits one year of eligibility.

Nault’s birthday is Feb. 14. He stopped playing with his junior team, the [nl]Connecticut Clippers of the Metropolitan Hockey League, just before his birthday in 2000 to maintain his college eligibility — a common decision by players who turn 21 during their final season of play before moving on to college.

Nault then played in the two tournaments over the summer.

“I had asked around to see if it was OK for me to play in those tournaments and people told me since they weren’t sanctioned by USA Hockey and since the academic year was over, they assumed it was OK,” Nault told the Bangor Daily News.

Nault, a native of Quebec, also said that he did not play in the tournaments to attract attention from U.S. schools.

“I had been turned down by schools in the MAAC,” Nault told the Daily News. “I guess they thought I wasn’t good enough. So I was planning to go to college in Canada. I played in those tournaments just to have fun.”

Nault was noticed by Maine at one of the tournaments and decided to attend the school as a walk-on. He earned a scholarship after a strong rookie season in 2000-2001.

Nault added that he did not learn that the tournaments might strike a blow to his eligibility until just a month ago. The NCAA ruled that playing in the tournaments, because he was over 21 and they were organized hockey, would cost him one season of eligibility, meaning he cannot play beyond the three years he has already competed.

Nault, a free agent, now must decide if he will remain at Maine to complete his degree without playing or turn pro. If he stays at Maine, he will be allowed by the school to retain his scholarship while serving as a student assistant coach, which would enable him to travel with the team.

But after having the best season of his career with 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points, good for All-Hockey East and All-New England honors, Nault may have done enough to draw the attention of pro scouts.

“Francis has emerged as one of the top college defensemen in the East and has been an extremely valued contributor to our success over the past three seasons. We will miss his presence on the ice very much,” said Black Bear coach Tim Whitehead.

“I’m confident he will land a professional hockey opportunity in the very near future. However, I would love to see him back here as a student-assistant coach, sharing his experience and knowledge with the younger guys on the team. I look forward to the possibility of his continued involvement with the program.”

In 110 career games, Nault accumulated 72 points on 18 goals and 54 assists. Before the NCAA ruling, he was the only one of Maine’s top five scorers in 2002-03 who was slated to return next year.

Maine was 24-10-5 in 2002-03 and finished third in Hockey East. The Black Bears were upset at home by Massachusetts in the league quarterfinals but were still awarded a bid to the NCAA tournament, where they fell in the Midwest Regional semifinal to Michigan in Ann Arbor, 2-1.