H.S. Hockey: Top contenders set as playoffs loom

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LEWISTON — The eleven-game unbeaten streak meant little to Lewiston High School and coach Jamie Belleau while is was happening.

With the advent of the playoffs?

“Obviously it was something the press picked up on, and it was great for what it was,” Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau said. “But our focus was the same all season after our 1-3 start: One game at a time, one shift at a time. Now, it’s the playoffs, and you play well, or you go home.”

What did come of that stretch of games, though, were key victories over tough competition, and enough of them to propel the Blue Devils into first place in Eastern Class A. More importantly, with those victories came confidence that they could hang with, play equal to, and defeat many of the teams against which they will play as the postseason begins.

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“We feel prepared,” Belleau said. “We’re not going to lose sight of the fact that we battled to get the results that we got. A lot of the wins were in one-goal games. We know we have to bring our ‘A’ game.”

The top-seeded Blue Devils were 8-4-1 against teams with winning records this season, including a season sweep of No. 2 Bangor and splits with East No. 3 St. Dom’s and Western Class A No. 2 Falmouth.

Lewiston drew Skowhegan in the first round after the Indians defeated Poland/Gray-New Gloucester in a preliminary game over the weekend. The Indians played a primarily Class B schedule this season.

“We certainly aren’t taking anything for granted,” Belleau said. “We still need to work hard. Skowhegan made the playoffs, and they’ve already won once to stay alive, so we know they’ll be coming in ready to play.”

Two of the top Class B teams in Maine appeared on the Saints’ schedule, as well, but no one will accuse St. Dom’s of trying to ease its way into the playoffs with a powder puff slate of games. The Saints’ schedule was among the toughest in the state, and the team performed well, going 6-6 against teams with winning records.

“We feel very prepared, we’ve played in a lot of tough games this season,” St. Dom’s coach Steve Ouellette said. “It’s been a pretty good grind all year, and we couldn’t have asked for much more than we got.”

A further breakdown of the numbers reveals just how close the Saints were to an even better record against those same teams. Of the six losses to winning teams, St. Dom’s lost in overtime twice, and by one goal two other times.

“We’ve had a lot of one-goal games, and we won a few of them, too,” Ouellette said. “That’s going to better prepare us as we get into the playoffs.”

St. Dom’s drew No. 6 Edward Little in the quarterfinal round, a team the Saints just defeated 10-1 less than a week ago.

“We can’t take them for granted, though,” Ouellette cautioned. “They did win 10 games this year, and I know they can score on the power play. They’ve been doing it all year.”

On the other end of the matchup, the Red Eddies will try to put the loss in the rear view mirror and gear up for another showdown, this time at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“We kind of went into that game with a different attitude, played a lot of players in a lot of different situations,” EL coach Craig Latuscha said. “The biggest thing, and I’ve been talking to the kids about this all year, is we have to stay out of the penalty box.”

That proved deadly for the Eddies in the teams’ recent matchup. St. Dom’s had six power plays and scored five times with the extra skater.

“The power plays are crucial,” Latuscha said. “When it was 2-1 in that game, and they scored two quick ones on power plays, that deflated us. We need to be disciplined. If we stay out of the box, I can roll my three lines, too.”

“It’s all about playing well defensively, from our zone out,” Ouellette said. “We know their power play is good, so we have to stay out of the box. We’re looking for a good, fast start.”

The winner of the St. Dom’s/Edward Little matchup will likely draw No. 2 Bangor. The Rams host No. 7 Brunswick, a team they defeated 6-1 during the regular season. The winner of the Lewiston/Skowhegan matchup will face the winner of Maranacook/Hall-Dale/Winthrop vs. Cony.

“To get where we want to go, we’re going to have to beat some pretty good teams, no matter how that works out,” Ouellette said. “Our potential semifinal would be a good game. If we’re fortunate to get that far, those are the kinds of games we’re going to have to win to keep going in this tournament.”

Lewiston and St. Dom’s will host their quarterfinals back-to-back at the Colisee on Tuesday beginning with the Blue Devils’ contest at 5 p.m.

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