In the Crease: The difference for Devils was in the details

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Three Biddeford skaters bore down on Lewiston keeper Conrad Albert. Only two Blue Devils defenders were back, and the Tigers were licking their chops.

With one swift flick of his wrist, Ryan Bossie thwarted the chance, and two other Lewiston skaters crashed into the zone, buried the initial puck carrier and took off the other way on an odd-man rush of their own.

Would last year’s edition of the Blue Devils have done the same thing?

Probably. But it wouldn’t have been so noticeable, given that the team would probably have already been ahead by three or four goals.

That’s why this year’s team, and this year’s title, was so impressive.

Gone was 75 to 85 percent of the team’s offense from a year ago, and most of its starting blue line. New keeper, new defensive scheme, new offense.

From the beginning of the year, head coach Jamie Belleau said, he knew the team would have to be different.

“It was a big adjustment, because we’re so used to being a puck-possession team,” Belleau said. “The first thing we had to do is figure out the skill sets of the players. It was apparent pretty quickly that we were a pretty good skating team … and we knew we could skate with most teams.”

They could skate, but entering the zone was different. Playing in the neutral zone was different.

“We were turning the puck over a lot (early in the season), and other teams were capitalizing on that,” Belleau said, “so we had to become — if they gave us the blue line, we’d take it and set up — but we had to become more of a dump-and-chase team, and a dump-it-out type of team.”

Saturday, perched in the stands and watching his former team from a vantage point from which he’d never seen in a state final, two-year captain Jeromey Rancourt saw it right away.

“They didn’t have the same firepower we’ve had in past years, but they had the same level of compete, they didn’t lose that,” Rancourt said. “The fact that they knew they weren’t going to have the same guys on the ice to put the puck in the net, they had to work together more, rely on each other more. It was really fun to see them do this. It was different. But it was good.”

Stickwork. Angling. Details.

“We’ve preached it in years past, we just had more offense,” Belleau said. “This year, it was far more important in the bigger picture.”

By the time the ice shavings had settled and the rink was clear of players Saturday, despite missing so many key players from the past couple of championship seasons, the year ended the same way — with the Blue Devils adding yet another state championship year to their already crowded banner perched in the venerable building’s rafters.

And while it was the third consecutive title for the school, the roster turnover and subsequent shift in playing styles made this one that much more special.

“This is a different team, with a majority of them a different group of kids,” Belleau said, “and it was their time to put their mark on Lewiston High School hockey history. You don’t ignore that we won two before this, but this is really special for them.”

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