LEWISTON — Beginner hockey players are all too familiar with “lemon” drills, designed to teach them balance, how to go forward and backward and stop on a dime when necessary.
It’s a lot to grasp, of course, which is why most athletes gravitating to the game begin rehearsing the skills at around the same time they learn how to write their own name and share crayons.
Or in the case of Lewiston seniors Sam Cote, Emily Turner, Mikaela St. Laurent and Megan Pare, give or take a decade.
“When I came in freshman year, I didn’t know much about hockey,” Turner said. “I could barely skate.”
Look at them now.
Lewiston (15-4-1) will try to shock the local hockey world at 7 p.m. tonight when it squares off with undefeated Scarborough (20-0) for the girls’ state championship at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
It’s the first final for the Blue Devils since they won the inaugural Maine Principals’ Association title in 2009 and lost to Cheverus in 2010.
Turner, Cote, St. Laurent and Pare were in seventh and eighth grade, far from being ready for high school varsity hockey and possibly even unaware of its existence.
They might have been better prepared to steer the Zamboni than to skate through the tunnel and onto the ice.
“All of us actually started (playing) our freshman year with each other. We’ve come so far together,” Cote said. “We are all learning how to skate and everything. This is an awesome way to come to the end.”
St. Dom’s won the 2011 girls’ championship, hanging an 8-0 loss on Lewiston along the way. This season, the Saints didn’t even have enough skaters to field a varsity team and chose to compete at the JV level instead.
Despite whatever tales the hardware in the trophy case might have told, the Blue Devils were in similar straits after their back-to-back journeys to the state game.
“The following year our team got cleaned out,” Lewiston coach Ron Dumont said. “People left for different reasons, and we didn’t have enough people to play. We went picking up kids, and this is the group here.”
It was a slow but steady climb.
As juniors, the quartet earned the No. 2 seed in Eastern Maine before dropping a 3-2, double-overtime verdict to Leavitt/Edward Little in the regional semifinals.
This winter, with juniors Paige Fontaine, Erin Hubbard, Erica Lemieux and Mikaela Brown anchoring the defense, Lewiston shut out Greely and Leavitt Little to reach the final.
Greely was two-time defending state champion. Leavitt Little owned a four-game winning streak over Lewiston, including three straight this season, before Wednesday’s 2-0 Devils triumph at Portland Ice Arena.
Fontaine has 46 saves in a spotless tournament to date.
“We got some talented younger kids and we started to gain more skill, learning how to skate better,” Cote said of the journey. “Our freshman year going on through, we definitely knew that this year could be our year.”
Cote is the only current starter in the senior, but all four have played a significant role in the playoffs.
Both Turner and Cote had an assist Wednesday, when the Devils stunned the Red Hornets by scoring both goals in a four-minute span of the second period.
“No one really had any hockey experience, and they were all out there playing in a regional final,” Dumont said. “I’m really proud of how far they’ve come as hockey players. It’s incredible what you can do as a kid if you just want to put your mind to it and work hard.”
According to Turner, the transition from wide-eyed rookies to steady veterans required a year-round effort.
“We busted our butts as far as we could go. We played with heart. The whole team plays with heart, and that’s a major thing,” Turner said. “Hockey is a very hard sport to pick up. You have to put your all into it, 100 percent, all the time.”
Now, Lewiston’s younger players are lifelong rink rats, ready for the spotlight and eager to glisten in it.
Sophomore Corinne Laberge and freshman Allison Frechette scored the goals in the regional championship.
“It is a young team. I think what helps is that we’re all friends,” Turner said. “We know how to give constructive criticism, even the girls that are younger, that helps us improve. We never are hard on each other in a negative way, but we work as a team.”
In the final, Lewiston will face a Scarborough machine that appears to have been groomed for this moment its entire life.
Devan Kane is a four-year starter in goal. Two of the team’s top scorers, Alyssa Hulst and Samantha Shoebottom, are the daughters of former crowd favorites for the Portland Pirates and Maine Mariners.
Dumont is happy to take his chances with a group that he saw start to turn the corner as juniors.
“They were starting to look more like hockey players. I think all of them just have a heart and passion,” Dumont said. “I always kid them, ‘If you’re low on skill, you’ve got to be high on will.’ And not to say they’re not good, but if you work hard, you’re going to overcome a lot of things.”
Girls’ Hockey Championship
Lewiston (15-4-1, East champion) vs. Scarborough (20-0, West Champion)
7 p.m., Saturday, Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Previous meetings: Scarborough won 3-0 and 2-0.
In the playoffs: Lewiston defeated Greely, 1-0, and Leavitt/Edward Little, 2-0; Scarborough defeated Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete, 11-1, and Falmouth, 7-0.
Players to watch: Lewiston — G Paige Fontaine, D Erica Lemieux, D Erin Hubbard, F Allison Frechette, F Corinne Laberge, F Sam Cote, F Emily Turner, D Mikaela Brown; Scarborough — G Devan Kane, D Lily Nygren, F Rachel Maroon, F Lizzy Gross, F Rachel Wallace, D Brenna Kent, D Riley McKeown, F Sami Shoebottom, F Alyssa Hulst.
Coach’s comment: “I thought we played as well as anyone in the state against them. I kid their coach (Caitlin Cashman), ‘You’re a boatload of trouble.’ Our kids are going to work as hard as we can. Half the fun is getting there, and that’s why they play the game.” — Ron Dumont, Lewiston