Maineiacs home in on stretch run

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LEWISTON — Sixty-three down, five to go.

And four of them are right here at home.

The Lewiston Maineiacs begin their stretch drive to the playoffs this week with the optimism of playing four of their final five games at the friendly confines of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“It’s nice to be at home so we don’t have to travel too much,” Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle said. “We need to take advantage of the fact that we only have one more game on the road.”

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The numbers bear out that advantage, too. The Maineiacs are 14-15-0-1 this season at home, compared to just 8-23-0-2 on the road. And after a Baie-Comeau win Wednesday in the Drakkar’s game in hand on the Maineiacs, Lewiston now holds a slim three-point edge over the Drakkar for the final playoff spot in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“You have to be aware what’s going on, but you can’t let it consume everything you are doing,” Houle said. “We have to go game by game, because we’re that type of team, we have to concentrate on the next game only.”

There is still a chance that Lewiston can also pass a couple of teams. Acadie-Bathurst is currently in 15th with 48 points, and Val d’Or is four ahead with 51 points. The Maineiacs have a game in hand on the Foreurs.

In the first pair of games on the four-game homestand, Lewiston welcomes Chicoutimi on Friday and Montreal on Sunday.

The Sagueneens currently hold down the 14th overall position in the standings, while Montreal is in 11th.

Chicoutimi’s arrival will bring a couple of people of interest to Lewiston this weekend, too. Most notably, Eric Gelinas, who spent two and a half years with the Maineiacs, will make his return to Lewiston on Friday.

“Trades happen; they’re part of the sport,” Houle said. “We’re going to stick to the game plan and play as hard as we can. Eric is Eric, and hopefully we can go in there and play hard against him and against the whole team.”

The Junior, meanwhile, were just in town less than two weeks ago. In a wild game, Montreal skated away with a 9-7 win on the back of Nicolas Chouinard’s five-goal outburst.

“I’ve been happy with the offensive production, but not happy with the defensive play,” Houle said. “We’re allowing way too many goals.”

In practice all week, the Maineiacs’ focus has been defensive-zone coverage.

“Two days this week we worked on our defensive zone coverage,” Houle said. “A lot of it comes from fatigue. We have a young team with a lot of players who aren’t used to playing this many games. We’re going to try and tighten up that defensive zone and allow less shots.”

But the forwards got in on the action, too.

“It’s a huge learning curve for them, too, to be accountable in their own zone,” Houle said. “With such a young team, there’s a lot of teaching to be done.”

And despite all of the goals being allowed, Houle did take a positive out.

“One thing I’m happy about is the character we’ve shown in the last four or five games, coming back from being down,” Houle said.

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