Once perceived as a soft team, the Lewiston Maineiacs have been standing up for each other.

LEWISTON – In hockey, being labeled a turtle isn’t good.

At all.

For one thing, the animal is slow, and perceived to be dimwitted.

But “turtling” also conjures up the image of crawling into a shell at the hint of an altercation. In hockey, if a player can’t stand up for himself, he won’t last long.

To many teams last season, the Lewiston Maineiacs were perceived as a weaker team. They backed down from confrontation, failed to fight back when cheap shots came flying at them.

Especially against the St. John’s Fog Devils.

“All they wanted to do was fight,” said Lewiston forward Triston Manson, who played two games against the Fog Devils last season as a member of the Shawinigan Cataractes.

“I didn’t even fight them last year, though, thinking about it. We were ahead by so many, it didn’t matter at that point, there was no point in fighting.”

Lewiston and St. John’s had a particularly poignant rivalry going last season. The teams combined for 551 total penalty minutes in their eight encounters. The Maineiacs still managed five wins and two shootout losses, but they took their lumps.

“That’s the kind of team they had last year and it made it difficult to play them every game,” said Maineiacs’ assistant coach Ed Harding. “They built a rivalry with every single team in this league because of it.”

In the playoffs, the Maineiacs faced another tough team in the Halifax Mooseheads. Lewiston was pushed around, and few of the players would stuck up for each other.

As the Maineiacs prepare to face the Fog Devils in back-to-back games this weekend, the difference in team toughness has been, as head coach Clem Jodoin calls it, “night and day.”

“It’s a big change from last year,” agreed Maineiacs’ captain Marc-Andre Cliche. “Last year, all five guys on the ice weren’t going to help a teammate, this year we are doing that. That’s a big thing for us.”

Cliche is standing up for himself. So are Eric Castonguay, Stefano Giliati, Stefan Chaput and a host of others.

“It’s not really that we are tougher, maybe a little bit,” said defenseman Kevin Marshall. “It’s that we are a team, our team is a team, it’s a family. If you touch one of them, the rest of us will care. We have very good leaders, our captain and assistant captains do a good job.”

Of course, adding Manson as a 20-year-old, a skater with a reputation as tough as they come, hasn’t hurt. But even Manson was impressed by how much the rest of the players were able to handle themselves.

“Even when I’m on the ice, other people are willing to fight and stand up for themselves,” said Manson. “I like that. It’s not just me all the time, and that helps the team out.”

Some players are even asking Manson for tips after practice.

“No one is afraid,” said Manson. “you know, guys that I would never imagine fighting, you know, just in case it happens, they ask.”

But the Fog Devils may or may not still be the same team fans at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee recall.

“They play a similar style this year, but they have a little bit of a different team, as well,” said Harding.

“It’s a little bit weird playing against them,” said Marshall. “It’s a rough team and you never know when they are going to come out strong. They came back after we had the lead up there 3-0, they kept up and they worked hard. They’re not very talented, but they have heart and they work hard.

“And they hit very well,” Marshall added with a wry smile.

This time, though, the Maineiacs will be able to hit back.

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