LEWISTON – Michal Korenko’s highlighter-blue hairdo was the first indication that things with the Lewiston Maineiacs are starting to wind down.
“This is great back home,” said the Slovakian defenseman. “It’s like this everywhere.”
Perhaps a better indication of the finality of being ousted from the playoffs was the raw emotion displayed by the players, their friends and fans. Wednesday night was a night for good-byes, and for remembering.
“I think we had a good season,” said Maineiacs head coach and general manager Clem Jodoin. “We had consistency, we lost 19 games by one goal, we finished in fourth place. In my mind, we were a young team with a young goalie, so personally I think it was a good direction.”
A direction, Jodoin admitted, ended prematurely.
“It’s sad the way we lost (Game 6),” said Jodoin. “We lost on a referees’ call, so the referees were a factor and not the players and the players should have been the deciding factor in the game. It’s sad when you see that.”
The players, meanwhile, were soaking up the attention of the approximately 600 fans who showed up to say goodbye, most of whom were seeking autographs on cards, hats, jerseys or sticks.
“This is great to see,” said Maineiacs’ forward Derek Bailey. “They like this team here. It’s good to see for the future.”
Bailey, Jonathan Paiement and Brandon Roach are the team’s three 20-year-old players, meaning they are no longer eligible to play in the league next season. Apart from that, though, every other player on the roster is eligible to return.
“We have a good core, a good, young nucleus of players that will be here next year,” said Jodoin. “It would have been nice going to a seventh game, going into a second round to give them as much experience as possible. I hate to have to think about next year, but we have to, because we are done. We’re there. We have good young players and we haven’t drafted yet.”
Because of that, Jodoin and his staff know the competition to make the team in August and September will be the fiercest ever. That, they say, is a good thing.
“I’m sure some younger players will take the spot of some of our veterans next year, and that is what we’re looking for,” said Jodoin. “It’s a fact, it’s not a question. It’s a sign of a good organization. Someone might take your spot.”
The younger players, including 16-year-old forward Rob McCarthy, are well aware of the predicament they might be in.
“It’s basic training, all out,” said McCarthy. “I came into this year’s training camp not expecting what I was in for. All I can do this summer is train my hardest and play a couple of tournaments. It’s a big summer for me.”
The theme was the same for the rest of the players across the board: Take a few days off, and then back to work at the gym and on the ice.
One story that will be particularly intriguing to follow this summer will be that of Mathieu Aubin. Next year, Aubin will be 20, and he has already been drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. He could play for the Habs in Montreal, for their AHL affiliate in Hamilton, or for their ECHL team in Long Beach. Or he could return as an over-age player for the Maineiacs.
“We’ll know before the draft,” said Jodoin, who still has plenty of ties within the Canadiens’ organization. “We’re making plans. If Mathieu Aubin is not coming back, this is what we want to do. If he is, there is something else. It’s all plans. We have to plan. If a 20-year-old defenseman is not coming down, that leaves room for another 20-year-old. We have to talk and think about it.”
Jodoin, his coaches and scouts have already been discussing draft-day possibilities. The team has eight picks in the first five rounds, which could open up some trade possibilities.
“We have to make some moves to get better at a few positions, maybe an older defenseman and maybe a 20-year-old forward that can score,” said Jodoin. “We’re in decent shape. There’s the potential for the future of this organization. Now it’s about making the smart decisions that’s going to help us to be better.”