It has seemingly become an annual ritual — a postseason game between longtime rivals Lewiston and St. Dominic Academy in each school’s standout sport, boys’ hockey.
For the fifth straight year the Blue Devils and the Saints will duel for a third time in a season, with the final meeting coming in a playoff game at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Lewiston has won the last two postseason meetings — in last year’s Class A North semifinals and the year before in the regional final — while St. Dom’s won in both the 2014 regional semis and the 2015 East regional final.
In fact, ever since St. Dom’s joined Lewiston in the East-turned-North region before the 2010-11 the two rivals have met in the regional tournament. Lewiston won the 2011 regional final and St. Dom’s the 2012 final before Bangor edged the Saints in the 2013 regional semis to prevent another postseason meeting.
What separates this year’s meeting is that a new chapter will be written, by many new authors to the storied rivalry.
While the Blue Devils and Saints once again proved to be the class of the region, it has been many new faces to propel their respective teams to this point.
The Saints, the No. 3 team in the North region bracket, feature more underclassmen than seasoned upperclass veterans. And captain Mack Pelletier is the lone senior.
The top-seeded Blue Devils, who are trying to win a third-consecutive state title, don’t have a freshman on the varsity roster, but many of the upperclassmen still are green in the postseason appearance department.
Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau noted after the semifinal win over Bangor that his team had “a lot of new kids in our locker room who haven’t experienced a playoff situation.”
“It’s exciting,” Belleau said. “A lot of these guys have been in the system for quite a few years, and they’ve been champing at the bit to get their opportunity to play varsity hockey at Lewiston and play in this game. And despite the fact that there’s a large number of players gone from last year’s varsity team there’s a few leaders from last year’s back, and I think they complement the other kids well. So I think it’s exciting for them, and it’s sort of a reward for the hard work they’ve put in and finally getting themselves in a position to play in this game.”
It’s been two years since the Saints have been one step away from the state final, so Tuesday’s rivalry clash for the regional crown will be a first-time experience for nearly every player on the roster.
“It’s their turn playing these types of games, which a lot of other St. Dom’s alumni have done in the past, and have done a great job,” St. Dom’s coach Bob Parker said. “But it’s these young guys’ turn, and everybody always has their first, and it happens to be their turn. I think they’re ready, and they’ve been working really hard. Each game everybody seems to be getting a little bit better. I used to be really nervous when the kids went on the ice towards the beginning of the season, even in the middle of the season, but now I’m excited to see what they can do when they do hit the ice.”
While the regular season seemingly came easy for the 17-2 Blue Devils (an assumption that Belleau would likely dispute), the Saints had to work their way through an 8-8-2 regular season. That included a pair of losses to the Lewiston, albeit by narrow 3-1 and 3-2 scores.
Rarely did victories come in blowout fashion for the Saints (they out-scored opponents 47-35), but the Blue Devils also didn’t have the same game in, game out high-scoring offenses that the back-to-back state championship teams had, either. They averaged 4.78 goals per game, a relatively low number compared to their predecessors.
That all adds up to what could be a grind-it-out regional final.
“It’s something that we talk about day in, day out from the very first time they step on the ice, that this is a game that brings on adversity,” Belleau said, “and how do you respond to adversity, and whether you embrace adversity, and how you handle adversity is critical.”
That the path to the state final includes a date at the Colisee with each other is just how each team would want it.
“You want to get to a state championship game, and I think St. Dom’s knows that normally you got to go through Lewiston, and we certainly know normally you got to go through St. Dom’s,” Belleau said.
This year is no different, except it is. The blue-and-white and black-and-white sweaters are the same ones as before, but the players pulling them on — for the most part — aren’t.
“It’s a cool feeling, but we have to prepare mentally because there’s going to be a big crowd, it’s going to be loud,” St. Dom’s freshman Derek Wolverton said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it might not happen again, so we have to absorb it and just play.”