LEWISTON — With a younger, slowly-maturing team, Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau issued a challenge: to be better each game than the last, and to improve every night.
At the rate his players appeared to be progressing Monday, no other team in Maine is going to want to face the Blue Devils come playoff time.
Matt Poulin scored twice and three other Blue Devils added a goal each as Lewiston skated past top-ranked Bangor 5-2 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to pull within points of the Rams in the standings as the teams crossed the halfway point of the season.
“This was a big game for us, we’ve been gearing up for this for a while,” Lewiston’s Kyle Morin said. “This was a big game.”
“It’s a long season, and we try to challenge the kids every game,” Belleau said. “And we have a schedule where we can challenge the kids every game. But it’s more than challenging them to win, it’s challenging them to get better, so at the end of the year hopefully we’re mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for a single-game elimination.”
Poulin, a junior who plays on the Devils’ top line with classmates Evan Gosselin and Kyle Lemelin, led a second-period rally that saw Lewiston pop three goals past stunned Bangor keeper Rye Powell in a 22-second span late in the frame, turning what was a 2-1 Lewiston deficit into a 4-2 advantage and putting the Blue Devils firmly in control of the contest.
“The momentum really helped us, the pressure we got after that second goal helped, and it just kept going our way after that,” Morin said.
The first strike came at 12:02 on a rebound after a blast from defender Patrick DeBlois hit Powell in the chest and fell to the ice in front of him. Poulin smacked the rebound into the cage to knot the game at two with the power play tally.
Morin, a freshman, netted the next goal just 10 seconds later, converting on a wrap-around chance on a feed from fellow freshman Griffin Wade.
“We just wanted to keep that going,” Morin said. “The hard work in the corner, the puck got to me and I was able to put it in the net. I faked to the front and the goalie didn’t know I was coming around the other side.”
Poulin finished the burst with another rebound on a Lemelin shot at 12:24.
More disparate than the score after two periods was the shot total. Lewiston turned Powell’s cage into a firing range, outshooting the Rams 38-11 through 30 minutes. For the better part of the two periods, Powell was equal to the task.
“In that second period they put it to us pretty good,” Paradis said. “Our goaltender made some pretty good saves, kept us in it.”
“We have worked diligently on trying to change our mindset on getting pucks to the net,” Belleau said. “We did that today.”
Wade added a goal of his own at 7:42 of the third on a feed from Morin to cap the scoring.
After a 6-0 start, the Rams are now 2-2 in their last four games. Worth noting, the Bangor coaching said, but not worth panicking over.
“This is some of toughest competition we’ll face this year, that’s a good team,” Paradis said. “We had a great game against falmouth, we lost 3-2, followed that up with a great game against Thornton and then a road win at Cony. Now we’re in the heart of our schedule and moving forward.”
The Blue Devils got on the board first just 2:19 into the game when DeBlois wristed a quick shot therough a screen that beat Powell low to the glove side.
The Rams rebounded quickly, getting a goal from Jordan Tracy on a slapper from the top of the left circle off the crossbar.
“We played string, it was 1-1 after the first period, we were forechecking hard, playing our game,” Paradis said. “Second period we took a few too many stupid penalties, and that will get you in this game.”
Despite the penalties, Bangor took a 2-1 lead in the second behind a slick back-door tally from Zach Papsadora on a feed from Parker Sanderson.
Five minutes later, on a Rams’ penalty, Lewiston’s barrage began.
Belleau, meanwhile, continued to temper expectations for Lewiston, which dresses only five seniors, two of which are the goalies.
“We played a good game, and the kids should be proud, but not comfortable,” Belleau said.
Bangor will battle Waterville and Skowhegan next, while Lewiston will square off against Maranacook/Hall-Dale-Winthrop and Brunswick before its second showdown with St. Dom’s.