In the Crease: My 10 favorite stories of 2017

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Maineiacs head coach Clem Jodoin hoists the President’s Cup above his head. (Sun Journal file photo)

LEWISTON — Everyone loves a good list.

Even more people love a good list at an arbitrary point on the Gregorian Calendar.

Just so happens that we have a widely celebrated arbitrary point coming right up, so, well, why not have a good list to go with it, right?

In Sunday’s edition, the Sun Journal Sports department will roll out its annual top 10 stories of the year, as voted upon by the staff.

But this list is more personal.

These are the top 10 stories I had the privilege of working on this year. Some are inspiring. Some were live and breaking news, some were analysis. They ranged in sports from skiing to hockey to field hockey to soccer.

They are unique, like the subjects about which they are written. And they are each on the list for their own reasons.

And one last caveat: These stories are not listed in any particular order.

Former members of the Lewiston Maineiacs’ front office and hockey staff gathered together recently at Gipper’s Sports Grill in Auburn. In the photo are Ernie Gagne, Jeff Guay, Marc Gosselin, Ron Morin, Dee Dee Record Allen, Jim Anderschat, Ben Levasseur, Jeff Mannix, Clem Jodoin and Chris Manson. (Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal)

The Lewiston Maineiacs’ championship run turns 10 years old

We have stories all the time — more so in news, I suppose —that deal with so many bad things in this world. Whenever we get a chance to relive some great memories, we really should take that chance. The Maineiacs provided the Lewiston-Auburn area with so many good memories from 2003-2011, but none sweeter than their run to the President’s Cup title in 2007. This past spring, nearly every member of the staff from that championship run — hockey operations and front office — gathered to reminisce. It was a great backdrop for a feature presentation about where everyone from that team — players and staff alike — is today. With an assist from Nathan Fournier, we tracked down every one of them, and the result was a great collection of memories.

See stories:

‘It was Magic’ – The story of the 2006-07 Maineiacs

Where are they now? – A look at all of the team’s players and coaches

It was all about chemistry – The team was constructed just the right way

The covers – A look at the artwork borne of a title run

— Lewiston wins second straight state hockey crown; Strout a two-time champion

In my role at the Sun Journal now, I don’t get to cover games on a day-to-day basis anymore. I still get out on occasion, get some photos, and add a complementary piece here and there to bigger events. This is one of those times. For the second consecutive season, the Blue Devils rolled over the competition and won a state hockey championship.

Throughout the season, there was some grumbling about which players were being used in which situations, particularly at the goalie position. Truth be told, it was a lonely position last season, given the offensive proclivity of the squad. But there were plenty of times during the season when the teams’ tenders were called upon to make important stops.

This column looked at his progression throughout the season, and hopefully set aside at least some of the negativity surrounding his play at that position.

See the story here

Lewiston High School keeper Dido Lumu boots the ball during the Class A boys’ state soccer final at Deering High School’s Memorial Field in Portland on Saturday. (Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal)

— Dido Lumu plays for more than just a state title

This is another of those secondary stories that is meant to complement the primary story, though his story alone could have been a Hallmark movie.

Dido Lumu suffered the unimaginable loss of a parent early in the season. He had struggled through his first year in soccer, and was looking to find his way on the team. With the help of the Lewiston boys’ soccer coaching staff, he transformed himself into a goalie — a state championship goalie. Perhaps a year ahead of schedule, the Blue Devils won the state soccer title this past fall, thanks in large part to Lumu’s play in the final game.

Clutching a framed photo and wearing an evocative shirt paying homage to his father, Lumu tearfully accepted his gold medal, even after they forgot to announce his name.

See the story here

Scarborough High School head coach Norm Gagne steps into the bench area prior to the home matchup against visiting Lewiston at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Gagne coached the Blue Devils before taking the coaching position for the Red Storm, and will now take over at Edward Little. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

— Edward Little replaces two coaches, adds hockey guru

Sometimes great stories fall into your lap. Such was the case with a pair of EL coaching hires back in April, and we got them both at the same time.

Chris Cifelli replaced longtime head girls’ basketball coach Craig Jipson in that same role after being an assistant for handful of seasons.

And, on the ice, Hall-of-Fame coach Norm Gagne, an Edward Little alumnus, returned to coach at EL for the first time in his storied career after stops at Gardiner, Waterville, Lewiston, Gorham and Scarborough. Gagne brought more than 700 wins and seven state titles to EL.

The stories:

Gagne to coach at EL

Cifelli takes girls’ basketball reins

— The Twin Cities are getting another junior hockey team

This one had been percolating for months, but about two weeks before a yet-unscheduled news conference, an item appeared on the Auburn City Council agenda for approval of a lease with a junior hockey team. Normally my day off, I just couldn’t resist attending the Monday night meeting at Auburn Hall. The reward? An exclusive on the new team, including a meeting with one of its owners, who attended the council proceedings.

This story developed over the next four days into what eventually became the announcement of the Twin City Thunder junior team, which will play at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in 2018-19.

See the story here

Androscoggin Bank Colisee owner Jim Cain stands inside the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in this 2014 Sun Journal file photo. (Sun Journal file photo)

— Colisee owner talks junior hockey, finances

Two weeks after the Thunder announcement, some rumblings started to surface about the state of the state at the Colisee in Lewiston, home to the L/A Nordiques and former home of the Maineiacs.

Owner Jim Cain set the record straight on a variety of things, including his junior hockey model, the building’s financial situation (which is much better than some people thought) and other miscellaneous items. It’s always good to sit down and get a good explanatory story out to the public when there are questions to be answered.

See the story here

St. Dominic Academy field hockey players return to the sideline after a halftime meeting during a recent game against Freeport in Auburn. From left are Tori Chase, Avery Greco, Maddy Pike, Anna Cote, Eisa Lee, Lizzie Perkins and Hannah Trottier-Braun. (Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal)

— St. Dom’s field hockey a team for the ages

I didn’t cover nearly as much field hockey as I have in the past, which is too bad. It’s a sport I have grown to embrace over the past 15 years. Once you understand it, it’s really a fun game.

And no one had more fun playing the game this past year than the St. Dom’s squad that tore through the WMC and then the playoffs, earning the school’s first field hockey state title in undefeated fashion.

Earlier in the season (with my daughter in tow), I interviewed a handful of the team’s top players about the season they were having to that point, and their ultimate goals.

See the story here

Lewiston High School’s Cole Ouellette returns a shot during the Class A state tennis championship match against Falmouth at Colby College in Waterville on Saturday. (Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal)

— Lewiston boys’ tennis falls in state final

It’s not often a local team’s loss makes a list of highlights, but this one does. Lewiston boys’ tennis enjoyed unprecedented success through the 2000s, and fell off just a bit in the early 2010s. The past two years, though, the Blue Devils returned to their customary perch atop the Class A North standings.

Led by senior Cole Ouellette, the Devils marched into the Class A state title game — and promptly got swept by juggernaut Falmouth. But the loss was, well, expected. It’s how they lost, or rather, how the players conducted themselves and never gave up, that made this such a joy to cover and photograph.

A great group of young men doing what they do to the best of their ability, in the face of adversity.

See the story here

Eventual winner A.J. Ginnis psychs himself up in the start gate. (Brewster Burns photo)

— AJ Ginnis unseats David Chodounsky

The one exception to my personal rule of less live coverage this year was for the U.S. Alpine Championships at Sugarloaf. I was part of our day-to-day coverage team, and the whole event was a blast to cover.

The best skiers in the country, and some of the best in the world, descended on our little nook to contest the national championships, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

One of the best stories from the week there was the figurative passing of the torch from U.S. slalom legend David Chodounsky to A.J. Ginnis, an established-yet-younger skier who’d come oh-so-close many times.

See the story here

— Rancourt leads by example

Rounding out my top stories list is one of the most bittersweet tales I’ve ever told. It also ended up being the most-read sports story of the year online at sunjournal.com.

It’s the tale of Lewiston High School graduate Jeromey Rancourt, and his journey as he overcame, as a young boy, the sudden and tragic death of his father to become one of the best hockey players in Maine, and a two-time state-championship-winning captain at Lewiston High School.

The story brought back many vivid memories for me on many levels: My own father was in law enforcement for nearly 25 years before passing far too young, and I had been the reporter in the newsroom the day Jeromey’s father suffered his diving accident.

For that reason, I felt like the story really spoke to me, and I tried to convey that to the best of my ability through the words I chose and the stories I used.

Read the full story here

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There have been so many great stories our writers here at the Sun Journal have told throughout the year, and I encourage you all to go back and look at some of those, as well. Lee, Wil, Randy, Tony, Nathan, Adam, Phil, Bob, Kalle, Paul, Dave, Bill … they’re all part of the best pound-for-pound sports department in Maine, and each of their stories are well worth the read every time, whether it’s live coverage, feature coverage of breaking news.

Thank you to every one of our readers for a great 2017, and we are looking forward to bigger and better things in the new year. May you and yours be blessed with peace, happiness … and successful sports teams!

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