“I’m just trying to take as long as possible to finish college,” the 21-year old sophomore Max Fenkell joked. One of two goalies responsible for the playoff-bound men’s ice hockey team, Fenkell has taken a roundabout path to the top of the conference leaderboards. Fenkell leads the NESCAC in goals allowed average, is a close second in save percentage, and Bowdoin has yet to lose a game he has started. 

If the season ended today, Fenkell would have Bowdoin’s highest-ever save percentage by a goalkeeper in a season, and he would be third on the list of lowest goals allowed per game for a season. 

Like many college athletes Fenkell started early, following in the footsteps of his father, who played on the last NCAA hockey team at the University of Pennsylvania before the program was relegated to club status due to budgetary constraints. His father’s participation in what Max called “the beer leagues” gave him the requisite exposure to the game. Becoming a goalie, though, proved to be an unusual decision. 

“It’s the position no one wants to play,” said Fenkell. “Most parents don’t want their kids playing it because it’s the most expensive position. But I was always intrigued by it.”

“He has a love of the position and a love of the sport,” said Head Coach Terry Meagher. “I know a lot of cliche expressions are overused, but that is because they do apply. He’s a hockey player: he pays attention, and he really understands.”

Fenkell spent his formative years rigorously drilling with a variety of coaches, each of whom he said left a distinct imprint on him, before attending the Avon Old Farms School. He then finished his high school career at Phillips Exeter Academy, repeating his junior year.

Fenkell was already on Bowdoin’s recruiting radar after a championship season at Exeter led to the team scouting one of his high school teammates, Dan Weiniger ’13. But Fenkell decided to follow his dream of playing in D-I hockey, choosing Colgate University over Bowdoin. 

But Fenkell decided to leave Colgate after a year, and he joined the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, a junior team in the British Columbia Hockey League.

“It was a good experience,” he said. “It was good hockey in a competitive league but the team wasn’t too strong that year, which was a bit disappointing.”

Bowdoin kept in touch with Fenkell during his year off through assistant coach Jamie Dumont, and Fenkell felt the same allure for the strength and tradition of the Bowdoin program that lured him there in the beginning. Fenkell matriculated this fall into the Class of 2015. 

Still, there was the question of his role on a team already full of exceptional goalies. Bluntly, Meagher told him that if he played well, he would see time. 

Fenkell’s early play earned him a share of the starting role beside Steve Messina ’14, a talented goaltender in his own right. Meagher has decided to split the two goalies’ goal-tending time equally, with Messina starting Friday nights and Fenkell playing Saturdays.

“We have depth in goal,” Meagher said. “It’s a healthy situation to be in, and it’s a joy to observe.”

The split has also added a bit of unpredictability to the Polar Bear’s game plan, since Messina and Fenkell have learned very different, even complementary, styles of goalkeeping. 

“I play deeper into the net because of my size,” the 5-foot-8-inch Fenkell said. “I try to read plays and keep in position. Steve is more athletic. He sprawls over the crease and can take risks—I can’t play that way. ” 

This makes it difficult for teams to prepare against the Polar Bears adequately, since they risk being unprepared for either goalie. Meagher said he believes splitting goalkeeping duties between the two players has been a large part of the Polar Bears’ dominant showing this season. 

The team’s strength in front of the  goal allows it to play a more up-tempo, ice-stretching attack. It has also fostered the spirit of competition amongst the several goalies, and should continue to make goaltending an anchor of the team for the foreseeable future. Fenkell said he certainly does not appear to be letting up in his determination.

“You know you are in good shape when you can give your goaltender the keys to the rink,” Meagher said. “First on, last off.”

The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.