Lewiston’s Gunnar Wade uses his body to shield the puck before shoveling a centering pass to a teammate. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
LEWISTON — The 2017-18 season was all about repetition for the Lewiston Blue Devils.
Coach Jamie Belleau knew if the Blue Devils wanted to win a third straight Class A state title, they had to change philosophies, from an offensive-minded squad to one with a more defensive mentality.
It all came together Saturday night when they grinded out a 2-1 victory over Biddeford, and outshot the Tigers 32-15. Lewiston was consistent, too, only allowing only five shots in each period.
The third line — known internally as the Green Line — of Gunnar Wade, Ridge Field and Cameron Dionne led the way in smothering any chances the Tigers had to claw back into the contest.
“Wade, Field and Dionne played some of their best hockey the last three games,” Belleau said. “Even the teams we had in the past, we like to play three lines as long as we can. We did that tonight. I really applaud the whole team, but particularly those guys.”
What did they do that helped the Blue Devils capture their 23rd state championship?
“They were just working hard, their neutral zone was good, their (defensive) zone was good, they were chipping pucks out, they were chipping pucks in,” Belleau said. “There forecheck was good, they were working the puck low.”
Again, it goes back to repetition.
“That comes all year with every practice,” forward Jack Leblond said. “That’s the main focus in every practice, (defensive) zone. You just get better every game, you learn from your mistakes, we put it all into effect in this game.”
In the playoffs, the Blue Devils allowed just four goals in the three games. In the regular season, they gave up 27 in 18 games, for a 1.50 goals-against average.
The Tigers knew they had to capitalize on any chance they were given, and that their opportunities to strike were few and far between.
“They packed it in when we got some opportunities,” Biddeford coach Jason Tremblay said. “We got a few opportunities in the first, obviously they had a ton in the first period. …We knew it was going to be like that.”
The two teams saw each other at the end of the regular season, when Lewiston came out on top 5-2. The Tigers learned something from the Blue Devils defense in that contest, and they made changes in advance of Saturday’s contest.
“We knew we couldn’t stretch the ice, because if it got picked, it was going the other way with odd-man rushes,” Tremblay said.
While defense was the focal point of this year’s Lewiston squad, Belleau wasn’t afraid to tell his players to possess the puck if they got an opportunity to pick the puck off.
The players weren’t fully comfortable with the change until after Christmastime.
“The turning point, when I really realized that, was when we had had a little round-robin in New Hampshire,” goaltender Conrad Albert said. “All the guys sacrificed their bodies and everything, blocking shots, getting the puck out of the zone. We had a really good game against a really strong Belmont team. I think that was a real turning point for us.”
Lewiston tied Belmont of Massachusetts and defeated Pinkerton of New Hampshire, 3-2, in a tourney in Salem, New Hampshire.
From that point, the Devils won 13 of 15 regular-season games.
“Coach always says take defense with pride, it wins championships,” forward Sam Frechette said. “We practice defense a lot during practice, and we had good sticks. That was a key element.”