PORTLAND – Don’t bet against tradition.

This is an especially helpful rule of thumb in a Class A hockey championship game – regional, state, holiday or intergalactic – when tradition is wearing a blue sweater adorned with the likeness of Beelzebub.

Lewiston beat the living parity out of Bangor, 8-4, in the Eastern Class A puck pinnacle Tuesday evening at Cumberland County Civic Center.

If this surprises you, there’s a strong chance you also: Prefer Starbucks to Hills Brothers; would shell out $60 to see Carrie Underwood in concert but wouldn’t cross the street to catch the Police reunion; stood in line nine hours to buy a Wii; and scornfully guffaw in the general direction of anyone who uses dial-up.

Repent, ye frontrunners. Bow down to the old school outfit that is 10-1-1 in its last 12 games after a 3-8 start and seems to win whenever it counts. Four of the last six regional championship trophies now belong to the Blue Devils.

“We started playing for Lewiston, that was the big thing,” said Lewiston coach and native son Norm Gagne, who will seek his seventh state title with his third different school at 6 p.m. Saturday in the cozy confines of Androscoggin Bank Colisee. “For the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.”

There are more jerseys and more names these days. More cities with a feeder system that four-year-olds may follow until they’re freshmen. More rinks constructed with the express purpose of providing limitless, year-round ice time.

We no longer own high school hockey in the Twin Cities. Twenty games of regular-season madness prove that. Judging from the last two Decembers, Januarys and Februarys, the wealthy, huddled masses could power up the GPS and happily make the case that the geographical center of Maine high school hockey has shifted south, nudged north or eased east.

It’s certainly somewhere other than a five-mile radius of Lisbon Street, where the three proud programs that do business each year have struggled to balance their books at .500.

But then a funny thing happens. It’s called the playoffs. Lewiston and Bangor have found each other there in four consecutive winters.

Each year except for this one, Bangor beat Lewiston in league play. The Devils have won all the rematches that mattered most, the first three by a single goal, two in overtime.

This renewal was a mismatch of glue trap versus rat proportions. First intermission would have been a swell time for Bangor to pick up its lovely parting gifts.

Tucked within five minutes in an otherwise non-descript first period, Lewiston scored at even strength, while short-handed and on the power play and made it 3-0. The disparity grew to 6-2 by the end of two periods.

“We’ve pretty much been here the last five years. Myself and a couple of the other guys on the team know what it’s like to be in the playoffs,” said junior captain Jon Roy.

A year ago, Roy fed Matt Letourneau for the goal that mercifully ended the longest hockey game in state history: 83 minutes, 44 seconds. Lewiston prevailed 2-1 in overtime over Brunswick, another of those bustling communities benefiting from that alleged shift in hockey power.

Roy scored four goals this time, as he and line mates Jordan Bourgoin and Casey Poussard looked infinitely more comfortable than their supposedly due rivals.

“We were expecting 1-0, maybe 2-1, but a close game,” Roy said. “We (captains) tried to help the other players understand what an Eastern Maine championship game would be like.”

There is a certain institutional memory in Lewiston that leaves each wave of Blue Devils better prepared for the March encounters with Bangor than the January run-ins with Mt. Ararat. And there is no substitute for the banner that hovers over the Devils’ home ice, reminding them of that tradition.

True, the population of this state couldn’t move south any more quickly if somebody discovered the fountain of youth in Arundel. Eventually, time and trends may catch up with Lewiston. One of the upstarts will steal a regional final in overtime and put a feather in its face guard that no summer camp championship in the world could ever give.

Until then, it might be worth remembering that you can still count the number of active, Maine Principals’ Association-sanctioned programs to win a Class A hockey championship on one hand. Scratch NYA (prep) and Dixfield (defunct) from the list and you’re left with Lewiston, St. Dom’s, Waterville, Cheverus and Edward Little.

“Bangor is a good team,” said Gagne. “But they play two lines. We play three, and we get after it. Lewiston hockey is putting the puck on the net, getting the rebounds and doing whatever it takes.”

While Gagne spoke, Biddeford and Scarborough were getting ready for the Western final. There’s little doubt that either southern school will be considered the favorite Saturday.

Not that I encourage betting on high school sports, but if I did, I’d cast my lot with the Devil.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]


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