LEWISTON – With the final 20 minutes to play, the Lewiston Maineiacs knew the task and knew the reward.

Tied 3-3 after the first two periods Sunday afternoon, the Maineiacs were told that Cape Breton had already lost. That meant clinching the top record in the league and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs was within the Maineiacs’ grasp.

“I told them after the first period what the score was, and I told them after the second period what the score was,” said Maineiacs coach Clem Jodoin. “Everybody knew. Yes, Saint John beat Cape Breton, but for us, I said ‘Let’s do it by the front door, by winning our hockey game and not relying on somebody else.’ That’s what’s most important for us. That’s what we did the whole year. We won the games that we had to win.”

Lewiston received a little help from an old friend when goaltender Travis Fullerton came on in relief for Saint John and allowed one goal on 34 shots to beat Cape Breton 4-3. Then when Chris Tutalo backhanded home a power-play goal early in the third, the Maineiacs were on their way to making history in front of their second straight sellout crowd.

“We knew before the third that Cape Breton had lost,” said forward Eric Castonguay. “The guys were all pumped up to go out and win the game. It was really important because at the beginning of the year, the goal was to finish first.”

The win enabled Lewiston to reach the century mark in points, giving them the Jean Rougeau Trophy as the regular-season champions.

“At the beginning of the year, in August, you’re like ‘What are we going to do this year,'” said defenseman Kevin Marshall. “During the whole year, you have ups and down with the boys. You have good moments and bad moments, but everybody worked hard, and everybody improved during the year. It’s a good thing that we’re in first, and we’re pumped up for the playoffs, and we’re going to go as far as we can.”

With the victory, it was a festive atmosphere as the Maineiacs celebrated their final regular-season home game. Jodoin greeted his team in the locker room with congratulatory hand shakes. The coach says the win is not only significant for his players, but also for the coaching staff, scouts and the front office.

“For me, It’s a great accomplishment as an organization to finish first,” said Jodoin. “After this, our first mission is done. Now we move to the next one.”

In the previous 37 years of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the winner of the Jean Rougeau Trophy went on to win the QMJHL title 20 times, which includes the previous three seasons. Prior to those last three years, though, only three of the previous 11 teams that won the regular-season crown went on to win in the playoffs.

“We have to turn the page,” said Marshall. “Tonight, it’s a good thing that we won, but the playoffs are coming up soon, and we have to be ready for those. They’re the most important part of the season, and we have to do the best that we can if we want to go all the way to Vancouver.”

Though Lewiston has three more games on the road, it returns home to start the postseason with home games tentatively scheduled for March 23 and 24. The Maineiacs finished the year with 28 wins at home, the most in the league.

“I think we’re one of the best teams at home,” said Castonguay. “We have a great crowd. That’s a seventh player. It makes it easy to have the momentum in this building.”

Finishing first also proved that the Maineiacs plan of operation has worked. That means a great deal to Jodoin. The organization has stuck firm in its hopes of developing a winner and such a milestone proves it.

While it was easy for other clubs to juggle their lineups at the trade deadline, Lewiston stayed patient and built a cohesive team. Even when the team faced adversity with injuries down the stretch, the team stuck together and succeeded.

“We didn’t do any trades, and we found a way to win,” said Jodoin. “Our philosophy is to work with young players, develop them and support them and make them better hockey players. It shows it’s possible to be done. I wanted to prove to the league that you don’t have to make 1,000 trades to be first. You just have to work with young players and raise them. It took two years, but we found a way.”

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