Junior Hockey: Fighting Spirit to face local prep stars

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After a previous team canceled their trip to Lewiston to play the Fighting Spirit to kick-off “Spirit Weekend” at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee a week and half ago, owner and coach Rod Simmons was left searching for an opponent nearly two weeks before their lone exhibition game at the Colisee.

He found an opponent made up athletes from Hebron Academy, North Yarmouth Academy, Kents Hill and the Portland Junior Pirates. They play in a Fall Prep League, which helps players get prepared for the prep school season, which starts in November. Those players were in the same predicament as the Fighting Spirit.

“They asked us to scrimmage us,” Rod Simmons said. “It kind of worked out well and we will see what happens.”

The game is slated for 7 p.m.

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After a week-plus of two-a-days filled with training camp drills and tests, Simmons has cut down to one practice a day on Wednesday, but doesn’t think his team is anxious to hit someone else just yet.

“I don’t know if we have hit that point where we are ready for full competition yet because we still have guys coming in,” Simmons said. “I think by Sept. 13 we will be. This is more of a practice type to get the guys used to playing a game here. Like I said, we won’t be dressing a couple of our guys, we will rest them, but I don’t think we’ve reached the point where they are ready to hit someone different.”

Sunday, Sept. 13 is their regular-season opener against the East Coast Minutemen for a 7:20 p.m. puck drop down in Salem, N.H. Their home opener won’t be until Saturday, Sept. 26 when they take on the Northeast Generals at 7 p.m. and the New England Stars the following afternoon.

How do the players feel about getting the opportunity to goes against another opponent?

“We can always improve — don’t get me wrong — but I think our team is to go up against the team we are playing this weekend,” Mike Heffernan said. “We have a pretty good group of guys and everyone is working pretty well together. Like I said, the chemistry is going and what not.”

Heffernan is one of the few returning players on this year’s roster. He’s a 20-year-old forward from Brockton, Mass. He is in his final year of junior hockey eligibility. This will be his third season with the Fighting Spirit organization.

Two more players are coming in as the Fighting Spirit are rounding out their roster. Walker Hamilton is a 18-year-old defenseman out of Anchorage, Alaska. He played with the Cleveland Barons U18 team. He had two goals and three assists in 32 Tier I Elite League games.

“He’s a young man who we picked up late from one of our last recruiting trips,” Simmons said. “We felt he has a lot of potential. He’s a big lad about 6-foot-2, 230 (pounds). He’s very mature, hard shot and played in Cleveland last year.”

Simmons is also bringing back another Brockton native in 20-year-old forward Ryan Macintosh who started last season with the Bay State Breakers’ United States Priemier Hockey League Elite team where he had a goal in three games played before joining the Fighting Spirit for a pair of games. He was injured during last year’s playoff run.

Also happening this weekend is a three-on-three street hockey tournament starting at 8 a.m. and will run until 1 p.m. on Saturday. The tournament will consist of four divisions, eight and under, nine to 12 year olds, 13 to 16 years-olds and a 16-and-up division. From noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday there will be a coach’s cook off to determine who has the best chicken wing sauce. There is also a Battle of the Bands on Saturday running from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. The winners will have their song be played when the Fighting Spirit come out of the locker room before the start of home games. On Sunday, there  will be a golf tournament at Turner Highlands from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., where the proceeds will benefit the Spirit Player Benevolent Fund.

The team visited a few restaurants last week and took part in the Great Falls Balloon Festival parade last weekend.

“It’s always good to have a nice community behind your team, too,” Heffernan said. “It helps the boys play better even if you are down in a game, whatever it may be. Having a crowd there cheering you on always picks you up. It’s always a good thing. It’s a big factor we have this year.”

nfournier@sunjournal.com

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