LEWISTON — Imagine somebody hollering across the bar or over the whirring of the Zamboni within an hour after Lewiston High School’s unforgettable triple-overtime victory over Cheverus for the Class A hockey title in March 2002.
“Mark my words, buddy,” the imaginary interloper might have said. “You won’t see that happen again anytime soon. No more state titles for Lewiston or St. Dom’s for at least a decade. Yes sir, take that to a bank that may or may not sponsor the Colisee after a major junior hockey team comes to town.”
You wouldn’t have questioned his sanity because there would have been nothing to question. Clearly he was toast. The onset of Daylight Saving Time wouldn’t cost the guy a wink of sleep. He’d be toes-up until at least 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon.
There would be no more laughing at Mr. Hypothetical Party Pooper’s expense.
After Thornton’s systematic 5-1 squelching of St. Dom’s on Saturday evening, two of the state’s forever Big Three haven’t hoisted the ultimate hockey hardware in 10 years. The other, Waterville, waltzed around the boards with victorious glee in 2009, and the Purple Panthers' out-of-the-blue return to glory also is looking like it was an anomaly.
I know it’s tempting to throw in Edward Little’s back-to-back titles in ’03 and '04 as two titanic yeah-buts. Yeah, but, please don’t. Auburn miraculously gave us a four-year talent wave (something in the water?) that included Kyle Smith, Colby Gilbert, Josh Benson and Lance and Luke Robinson. It hasn’t been duplicated. EL sniffed the state level neither fore nor aft.
To look at the Class A championship history during this season of ankle-deep mud and still-barren trees is to invite depression. Prior to this drought, the longest combined stretch without either a Lewiston or St. Dom’s championship, post World War II, was six years. And that was only because Waterville won every title between ‘68 and ‘74.
Thornton made the glory days feel positively prehistoric, defending its title with disturbing ease.
Trojans goalie Joseph Ferrante wound up flat on his belly while stopping St. Dom’s best scoring opportunity, all of 22 seconds into the game.
A loud delegation of locals seated behind the elusive net decried what they believed was a quick whistle. No matter. Quick is an inadequate assessment of Thornton’s response: Two goals by Division I caliber sniper C.J. Maksut and another by Andrew Carignan, all in a span of just over five minutes.
Greg Lodge made it 4-0 early in the second period. The Trojans’ rarely-scored-upon defense had ample ammunition for skating into full-on lockdown mode, punctuating a game that was every ounce one-sided as its 8-1 and 6-2 regular-season predecessors.
Troy Haefele’s power-play deflection at 6:14 of the third period breathed life into the black-and-white half of the arena. It erased the shutout and made the what-ifs of the frenzied first period ache a little bit more. An empty-netter salted the wounds.
With that, seven of the last eight Class A championships have ridden south on the turnpike to Cheverus, Biddeford or Thornton. And unless a Second Industrial Revolution comes our way and drops 25,000 upper-middle-class jobs in our backyard, that trend isn’t making a U-turn anytime soon.
That, and only that, would make the game that once ruled our flooded and frozen backyards king once more. Short of a miracle making the game affordable and accessible to the families that would otherwise live and breathe it, hope is in diminished supply.
It’s not as if Lewiston and St. Dom’s have disappeared from the sports radar.
Quite the contrary. Both have been atop the mountain in the shiny-new world of girls’ hockey. On the boys’ side, Lewiston has been to state finals in baseball and lacrosse while contending in basketball and football. St. Dom’s wins Class C baseball titles and contends in soccer in both genders as if it’s divinely ordained. Heck, both schools have even won a closet full of cheerleading championships.
None of it has translated lately to the ice, where the Saints and Devils now have played two straight classic regional finals for the privilege of being runner-up.
With Saturday’s notable exception, each has been competitive in the state final. Particularly Lewiston, which took Thornton to overtime a year ago before Maksut’s goal owned the night.
But it doesn’t take much imagination to see that gap widening, especially in light of the ever-changing map.
Not enough that Biddeford and Thornton seem to be in an every-other-year, collision-course, your-turn-now relationship in the West. Falmouth and Scarborough are perennial contenders. Fans of every other sport gladly will explain to you why Cheverus can compete for a state championship whenever it wants.
Besides everybody’s bridesmaid, Bangor, who in the East shares that ability to push St. Dom’s or Lewiston? Nobody but a bunch of well-intentioned cooperative teams with hyphens, slashes or acronyms in their names. The Saints and Devils have each other and that’s it.
In fact, rather than curse that changing landscape, Lewiston and St. Dom’s fans might thank geography for allowing them an underdog in this annual fight. If not for the awkward, limbo-stick line that moved first Lewiston into the East, then St. Dom’s two winters ago, the final game in the Twin Cities might be a neutral-site affair every March. More often than not both teams would struggle to get out of the West regional.
What’s the solution? Wish I had an answer that was truly within even one person’s control.
Judging from our region’s success at the youth and birth-year travel levels, the Twin Cities talent pool appears deep enough to produce one powerhouse high school team these days, not three.
It’s not as if Lewiston or St. Dom’s is out of its league against a southern foe. Far from it. But each is at the point where a state title should be viewed as the exception, not the rule.
Scary what can happen in 10 years.
Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. Hie email is email@example.com.\