LEWISTON — It’s not easy to erase two years’ worth of memories, particularly from the minds of teenaged athletes with an axe to grind.
If the Lewiston Maineiacs want to remain competitive in their first-round playoff series against Drummondville over the next week, the coaching staff and the team’s veterans stressed Thursday that wiping the slate clean and starting fresh may be the biggest contributor to the process.
“Drummondville is a very good team, but we start this week with the same number of wins,” Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle said. “The biggest thing we have to do is match their intensity. We have to take it shift by shift; we can’t look ahead and we don’t want to look in the past.”
As the team prepared to board the bus Thursday, each player was handed a black shirt. In bold white letters on the back, they read, “Are you ready for war?”
The war-like mentality, and the intensity it suggests, is something everyone involved believes is essential to staying in every game.
“We cannot slow down for even a minute,” Lacasse said. “We know how good (Drummondville is); you have to keep working hard all game long.
“You have to control yourself and your emotions, and stay on that very thin line,” Lacasse added.
Drummondville has been the bane of the Maineiacs’ existence over the last two seasons. In 20 games, including four in the first round of the playoffs last year, the Voltigeurs have 18 wins, and have outscored Lewiston, 135-48.
“There’s not much you can do, really. They’re older and stronger, and you can’t change that,” Houle said. “But one thing we can do is come to the rink and compete hard. That’s the one thing we continue to try and get into the heads of these younger guys. I tell them, ‘Guys, give it all you have, and you have to work and compete. It’s a big part of this game, and it makes a huge difference.”
Adrien Lemay, the Maineiacs’ 20-year-old starting goalie, saw action in all four playoff games last season against the Voltigeurs. He was heartened this week by all of the work the team did in enhancing its defensive-zone coverage in front of him.
“We’re going to have to bury our chances,” Lemay said. “We have to be disciplined in our zone, work hard and be opportunistic. They work very hard, and I think if we can match that, we have a chance.”
Lemay sat out last Wednesday against Drummondville, taking a seat in the press box as 16-year-old understudy Jordan Kennedy got the start. He watched the game carefully, and jotted down some notes.
“They’re a very skilled team, they run a lot of plays back door and move the puck well,” Lemay said. “I saw some tendencies in players; I just have to be prepared.”
Up front, the team feels if they are going to hang with the Volts, it needs to exploit the one area where it feels there is at least an even match-up of abilities: offensive speed.
“We’re a very fast team, and we have to use it against them,” Lacasse said.
Looking at the Drummondville roster, there are two players — Sean Couturier and Gabriel Dumont — who eclipsed the 90-point plateau this season, complemented by the return of Chris DiDomenico, who has averaged nearly two points per game in his 12 games since returning from a severe leg injury. In all, eight players had at least 40 points, and 11 players scored at least 10 goals.
Lewiston, on the other side of the spectrum, has just four players on the current roster with more than 40 points scored.
It won’t be easy, Houle said, but the team’s going to give it its best shot.
“If we work hard, stay disciplined, protect our own zone and use our speed, we really do have the chance to surprise some people,” Houle said. “It takes commitment from everybody.”