In the Crease: Loud and clear, Strout is a two-time champion

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LEWISTON — All Jacob Strout could hear was nothing.

The Lewiston High School goalie cast his gaze some 180 feet to the other end of the rink. There, teammate Alex Robert pounded a rebound past Falmouth goalie Spencer Pierce from the left side of the cage. With 10:53 to play in the second period, the Blue devils led, 2-0.

Far more than half of the 3,740 hockey fans Androscoggin Bank Colisee erupted.

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Strout bobbed from side to side, fanned his stick across the ice and pushed off right his right foot, slowly gliding to the left corner of the rink. He curled back toward center, his face emotionless. A 5/8-inch thick pane of glass separated him from his own student cheering section, which to a person was enveloped in raucous recognition of the team’s newly doubled advantage.

Still, Strout heard nothing.

Playing goalie for Lewiston High School isn’t easy.

It never has been, for myriad reasons. The city loves its hockey, loves to love you when you’re playing well, and loves to take a swipe at you if you’re not. For better or worse, it’s a reality.

And playing a linchpin position at one of the top hockey schools in Maine often exposes a player to both sides of that reality, whether they want that exposure or not.

The best way Strout — a two-year starter — has learned to deal with the pressure? Ignore it all.

“When the game is going on, especially a game like this, you tend to tune them out,” Strout said. “You don’t see them. You don’t hear them.”

Well, almost never.

“Sometimes I acknowledge them,” Strout then admitted allowing a rare smile to cross his lips. “But the other fans? Not at all.”

That often leaves Strout alone to his own thoughts, a sentiment exacerbated by the fact that he’s often alone in his own end for minutes at a time during a game.

This season, the Blue Devils’ prolific offense scored more than 150 goals in 21 games, and won more than half of their games by more than eight goals.

The team’s goalie coach, John Racine, worked hard with Strout on his mental game, to prepare him for exactly those situations.

“The most important part was the mental game,” Racine said. “He had to be prepared, and he had to be ready for the first shot. I stress ‘first-shot’ every single game, and tracking the puck. I made sure, if he could see it, he could stop it.”

And he did.

“He’s done his job,” head coach Jamie Belleau said. “Whether he gets five shots or 40 shots, your goalie’s got to be there. (Strout) has been there for us.”

On Saturday, Strout faced only nine shots in the first two periods. But three of those shots begat critical saves.

In the opening frame, the Yachtsmen had their first true scoring chance with 4:23 to play in the frame. Two-way defenseman Cole Ouellette overplayed the pass on a 2-on-1, forcing a shot that glanced off Strout’s shoulder. More than 10 minutes into the game, it was the first shot he’d seen in at least seven minutes of play.

Falmouth began the second period on the power play, and ripped a pair of shots on goal in the opening minute. The first shot handcuffed him, but he flashed his right pad to kick aside the rebound.

One minute later, Ouellette scored to put the Devils ahead.

Two minutes after that, it was 2-0.

Sometimes, Strout’s teammates celebrate with him after scoring. Other times, they leave him be. After that second goal, the scoring line skated toward the cage. As they tapped the keeper’s glove hand, Strout shot them a look back that exuded caution.

“We were winning 2-0 in the game here (during the regular season) and they came back and won, and we were winning 3-0 there and we were lucky to pull it out 5-4, so it’s just good to stay steady,” Strout said. “(Falmouth) has a good team, and they can come back anytime. It’s still a game.”

Later in the period, Strout fought off Falmouth’s eighth shot. His team rewarded him a minute later with a third goal.

Now on its heels, Falmouth again tested Strout early in the third. A Yachtsmen shot 1:34 into the final frame nearly skipped through his legs, but he gloved it. A minute later, a shirt-side shot popped off the post behind him, and he and a defender swatted it out of harm’s way together.

A minute later, Lewiston scored again.

And again.

And again.

With a 6-0 lead in the Class A title game, Strout finally allowed himself a smile — and a fist pump.

“What a great way to finish a career, winning two, being the guy that primarily plays back there,” Belleau said. “He’s a good kid, he’s worked really hard, and I think it’s easy to overlook that — but not by the coaching staff or his teammates.”

No one is overlooking Strout now.

He allowed a pair of late goals as Lewiston pulled back its offense in the game’s waning minutes. But those were a mere footnote of a stellar two-year run for the senior keeper.

“Words can’t describe yet,” Strout said.

Sure they can: Two-time state champion.

And you can be sure he’s hearing those words loud and clear.

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