Some guys just can’t take a hint.
He tries walking on, not just at any old place but at one of college hockey’s elite programs. He actually makes the team as a freshman. However, elite programs being what they are, the kid doesn’t dress so midway through the season he’s told he should probably stick to baseball.
Where he’s a lefty pitcher who one year will post the school’s best Earned Run Average of anyone who throws at least 40 innings.
So what’s he doing walking on yet again as a senior? A senior! Can’t the kid take a hint?
And what’s he doing dressing for almost every game?
In some cases, it’s a great thing when a kid can’t take a hint.
Case in point: Maine’s Nolan Boike.
“It’s a wonderful story,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead says. “Nolan tried to walk on here and made our team as a freshman. He practiced with us in the fall, but we were very deep that year at the forward position.
“Halfway through the year, we met. I didn’t see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel that season and, knowing that he was a heck of a baseball player, told him that baseball was his best move. We left on very good terms.”
But Whitehead knew the Boike family particularly well, having recruited Nolan’s older brother Brian while at Mass.-Lowell, and figured that you never say never with a talented athlete. So when they parted, he told Boike to keep in touch because, well, you just never know. The Black Bears might not always be as deep up front as they were that season.
For the next three years, Nolan Boike played baseball, his best season coming as a sophomore when he posted a 4.50 ERA, striking out 19, with a 4-2 record in Maine’s climate-abbreviated season. In the America East Tournament, he came out of the bullpen to pitch four innings, striking out four while allowing just two hits to secure the win.
But the kid who couldn’t take a hint kept playing in summer elite pro-am hockey leagues. And one thing led to another. This past summer, one of his teammates was Billy Ryan, a Black Bear forward himself.
Ryan called Whitehead and said, “Coach, I might be crazy, but I think Nolan can really help us.”
The Black Bears had graduated five forwards and lost another early to the pros, so there were openings that hadn’t been there in Boike’s freshman season.
Perhaps even an opening for a kid who couldn’t take a hint.
“Since we had graduated a ton of elite guys the last two years and lost Teddy Purcell to the pros, the timing was good,” Whitehead says.
Whitehead worked out an agreement with Maine baseball coach Steve Trimper, who he considers a good friend, and called Boike.
“Don’t quit baseball,” Whitehead told him, “because I can’t guarantee you a spot on the team, let alone ice time. But I’m intrigued by the possibility.”
Boike continued to practice fall baseball and attended hockey captains’ practices when he could, making a good impression with the other players. Fall baseball concluded the same weekend that the hockey team opened at Denver, after which Boike set aside the ball and glove to strap on the skates for the Black Bears.
“He joined us for practice each day and immediately made a very positive impression,” Whitehead says. “By the end of that week I said, ‘You’re here to stay, buddy.'”
He’s played every game since then but two, even setting up his summertime teammate, Billy Ryan, for the tying goal at Boston College.
“What’s remarkable about his play is nine out of 10 times, he’ll do the little things that only come with experience,” Whitehead says. “He’s stopping on the puck when the puck is turned over. He’s on the defensive side of his man. He hits the net with his shots. He keeps his shifts short.
“He’s a tough kid physically, but he stays out of the penalty box. Those typical reaching, hooking penalties that happen when you don’t have control of your body, he’s not taking those.
“But he’s tough. He’s great on the wall, winning pucks, and on the breakout and in the neutral zone.”
His teammates have taken to him because of his attitude and team-oriented play.
“There’s potential for some jealousies when a guy joins a team after he hasn’t been there for three years and all of a sudden he’s playing [regularly],” Whitehead says. “But Nolan has handled that very well. He’s very respectful of the tradition he’s joining and what his teamates have accomplished prior to this. His approach has been really right on and guys recognize that he’s been a great addition.”
Boike will remain with the hockey team for as long as the Black Bears’ season lasts.
“I’m really proud of Nolan and very happy for him,” Whitehead says. “It’s really a great story for a lot of people to recognize that perseverance can sometimes bring great things.”