LEWISTON — Two of the most storied hockey programs in Maine will meet Tuesday night, each with a chance to advance to the Class A state title game and add to an already impressive collection of hardware.
Waterville, the No. 2 team in Eastern Class A and the defending state champion, faces No. 4 St. Dom’s in the nightcap of a two-game set of regional finals at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, with the winners advancing to face each other in Saturday’s Class A state final, also at the Colisee, at 6 p.m.
And for both teams, Tuesday’s matchup will likely conjure up a serious case of deja vu.
“Just another year, right?” Waterville coach Dennis Martin deadpanned.
“We’re still two programs very familiar with each other,” Saints’ coach Steve Ouellette added.
But this year is anything but typical for either squad. Each team will use just three senior skaters, and each will start a senior netminder. After that, both schools rely heavily on a cast of underclassmen.
“Despite being younger, we have that depth, we plan to be rolling three lines all night,” Ouellette said. “And for us, one of the biggest differences from last year, we’re not going out there and outgunning people 6-4. we have a renewed focus on team defense.”
That focus has paid off for the Saints. They’ve allowed 2.63 goals against per game, good for third in Eastern Class A behind Lewiston and Waterville. Meanwhile, St. Dom’s also finished third on the other end, netting an average of 4.16 goals per game.
Waterville, which graduated a handful of its top scorers as well as one of the best goalies in Maine, appears to have reloaded just fine, as well.
“We lost two of our top defensemen and some of our top scorers,” Martin said. “But all of the guys have stepped up, and the younger defensemen have really played their roles well.”
The Purple Panthers’ defense held strong again, allowing 1.70 goals against on the season. Offense, on the other hand, has been an issue, much like it was two seasons ago. Waterville ranked just seventh with 3.05 goals scored per game this season, winning squeakers with Gray-New Gloucester/Poland (2-0), Messalonskee (2-0, 2-1) and Brunswick (2-1), while losing tight ones to Thornton (1-0), Bangor (1-0) and Lewiston (1-0). Waterville also battled to a 0-0 tie with rival Winslow.
But in a pair of playoff games, the Panthers found their scoring touch.
“It seems like we’re starting to catch our scoring drift in the playoffs here,” Martin said. “The guys seem to be playing with more confidence, and they have that in them.”
The Saints, meanwhile, have become more stingy, allowing just three goals in two games. They just need to keep things even on the ice and avoid being in penalty trouble.
“I don’t want our team to have to kill five penalties to one,” Ouellette said. “That impacts how the shots looked on Saturday, of course, but it also tired out the guys we need to keep fresh out there.”
Staying fresh will be another key factor for both teams.
“Our guys, you watch them, even in the game (against Bangor) on Saturday, they looked like they might be dying in the second, and all of a sudden they have a burst of energy,” Martin said. “Other teams look and say, ‘Oh, they’re just running two lines,’ and sometimes we do double-shift a few guys, but the boys are in such good shape it doesn’t show in the third.”
The Saints remain committed to running three lines, like they have all season.
No. 1 Biddeford and No. 2 Thornton Academy will square off in the night’s first game for the Western Class A regional title. That game begins at 6 p.m., with St. Dom’s and Waterville to follow. Also Tuesday night is the Eastern Class B final between No. 3 Presque Isle and No. 1 Brewer at Alfond Arena in Orono. Western Class B’s title game is Wednesday night between No. 1 York and No. 3 Yarmouth. That game is also at the Colisee, at 7 p.m.
Class A regional hockey finals
Where: Androscoggin Bank Colisee
When: Western A, 6 p.m.; Eastern A, to follow
Western Class A teams
No. 1 Biddeford (16-2-1)
Playoff pedigree: Def. Scarborough, 5-2; Def. South Portland, 7-2.
History: Two-time state champion, 2007, 2008
Players to watch: Trevor Fleurent (F), Brady Fleurent (F), Craig Anton (F), Derek Reny (F), Eric Grover (D), Nick Gagne (D), Matt Roy (G).
No. 2 Thornton Academy (16-2-1)
Playoff pedigree: Def. Deering, 7-0; Def. Falmouth, 4-1.
History: Never played in state final
Players to watch: Alex Howard (F), Sam Canales (F), Seth Prior (F), Bryan Dallaire (D), Ryan Locke (D), Rick Hebb (G).
Eastern Class A Teams
No. 2 Waterville (13-6-1)
Nickname: Purple Panthers
Playoff pedigree: Def. MHW 7-1; Def. Bangor, 7-2.
History: 20-time and defending Class A champion
Players to watch: Nick DeBlois (F), Josh Gaudette (F), Kyle Bishop (F), Tim Locke (F), Matt Lee (D), Ryan Cormier (G).
No. 4 St. Dom’s (12-8-0)
Playoff pedigree: Def. Edward Little, 12-3; Def. Lewiston, 2-0.
History: 24-time Class A state champions, last in 2000
Players to watch: Alex Parker (F), Nate Bergeron (F), Dakota Keene (F), Cam Brown (F/D), Trevar Haefele (F/D), Donne Larrivee (D), Shayne Curtis (G), Josh Charest (G).