LEWISTON – You can gauge their progress by their hair.

Playoffs beards have gone from fuzzy to furry. The shaved heads have new growth, and the “We Believe” etchings in various scalps may be in need of a touch up soon.

The Lewiston Maineiacs are in the second round of the playoffs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and their growth as players and as a team can be measured in their success and the length of their hair.

“I think it’s a tradition,” said forward Marc-Andre Cliche. “Every team gets the beards going or something crazy with their hair.”

The Maineiacs have an abundance of both. Some players sport beards, while others have a variation to their typical hairdos. Some just have the motto shaved into their hair.

With Friday’s 8-4 victory over Halifax in the first game of that quarterfinal series, the Maineiacs move one step closer toward the President’s Cup, while the hair continues to grow.

“Maybe if we keep going in the playoffs, we’ll have to come up with a whole new (hair) pattern,” said Cliche.

The Maineiacs growth as a team goes much deeper than their scalps and chins. After three previous seasons of playoff action and experiences, Lewiston is building off that foundation.

“I think we’re more prepared and more ready than last year,” said Cliche. “It’s just more experience. So we’re more focused on the games.”

Playoff hockey can be a whole different breed. The hits are harder. The play is tighter. The urgency is greater, and every mistake is magnified. It is where seasons are won or lost and where a foundation for a pro career can be built. The regular season that came before it is just a prelude to any Cup run.

Maineiacs coach Clem Jodoin has tried to keep his boys focused on the present and getting them prepared. After having the most wins in the regular season, Jodoin is making sure his club isn’t resting on any laurels. After Thursday’s win, he told his team it was a win, but it could have been better.

“There’s experience from the past,” said Jodoin. “We use them, but it’s only so much. The way we prepared this week was we didn’t have any slow drills. We battled hard and battled and battled. Players had to be ready. Players were saying, ‘When are we going back to a normal practice?’ We’ll go back to normal practice when we’re ready.”

Lewiston is ready for an extended playoff run like never before. The Maineiacs were the underdogs against Shawinigan two years ago and reached the second round before being steamrolled by a powerhouse from Rimouski. Last year, Lewiston was favored to beat Halifax, but lost three straight games after taking a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

“There are a lot of players that remember last year against Halifax,” said forward Eric Castonguay. “We were fourth and they were fifth. That was a big loss for us. You never know what can happen. Every game, we need to be prepared, because we know every team wants to beat us.”

Though Lewiston swept Shawinigan in the first round this year, it wasn’t easy. The Maineiacs rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the first game, and trailed 3-2 after one period in the second. In the series clincher, Lewiston was down 3-1 in the third before a comeback win in overtime.

“It looks easy, 4-0, but we had some trouble,” said Cliche.

Lewiston fell behind 1-0 early Friday night, but poured it on, shaking off a sloppy defensive game and slow start by goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

It is a time when teams need a greater focus, greater discipline and greater execution. It’s a time when teams need to be ready for the battle of wills they’ll endure. Lewiston feels confident they’re ready for that challenge this time around.

“Both years were good experience,” said Cliche. “Last year, we lost in the first round. We thought we were going to make it further, and we didn’t. We know we always have to keep working because the other team can comeback anytime.”

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