LEWISTON – There was far less fooling around on the ice than normal after the Lewiston Maineiacs’ practice Thursday.

Not to say that the team stopped having fun, but the focus was there. The players’ faces bore that out loud and clear.

The coaches, who have preached readiness all week, skated off satisfied.

“We touched on the final details of the tactical aspect of the game,” head coach Clem Jodoin said. “We’re ready. It’s playoffs. Let’s go.”

The Maineiacs open up their best-of-seven semifinal playoff series against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies tonight at 7 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, and despite the Huskies’ No. 6 Telus Division ranking, the Maineiacs are prepared for a dogfight.

“Their team definitely battles hard all the time,” Lewiston defenseman Chad Denny said. “They go from the time the puck drops to when the buzzer rings. They never give up.”

The teams met twice this season, both one-goal Lewiston wins. In December, without captain Marc-Andre Cliche and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, Lewiston eked out a 3-2 win. Later, with Bernier on the shelf with an injury, the Maineiacs took a 6-1 lead and held on for a 6-5 victory after the Huskies battled back in the third period.

“When you haven’t seen a team for a long time, you forget about a lot of their players,” said Jodoin, who traveled to Drummondville to watch Rouyn-Noranda play Game 7 against the Voltigeurs. “Now (after going to see them), we talk about every one of their players, we have a much better picture of everyone there.”

The Huskies know they’re up against the wall – again.

The underdog against No. 3 Gatineau in Round 1, Rouyn-Noranda vaulted the Olympiques in five games. Again thought to be the lesser team in Round 2, the Huskies battled back from a 3-2 series deficit to win in Game 7. Being the underdog again doesn’t bother the Huskies one bit.

“We like that,” Rouyn-Noranda coach Andre Tourigny said. “Before Christmas, we were the second-youngest team in the league. I think that role is perfect for us. When you’re young, it’s always easier to play without pressure.”

The only thing the Maineiacs are willing to concede is that fact, though.

“The only difference is that they’re the underdog and we’re not,” Cliche said.

The similarities are striking. Neither team placed a player in the league’s top 20 in scoring. David Perron was Lewiston’s highest entry at No. 23 (83 points). The Huskies’ highest point-getter is Michael Dubuc, with 73 (34th overall). Both teams have top-level blueliners leading a relatively young defensive corps, and both have one of the best goalies in the league.

“I think the defense for each team is pretty similar. We have a good ‘D;’ they have a good ‘D,'” Lewiston defenseman Sebastien Piche said. “We don’t have top scorers, like they don’t have either, but we have six or seven players over 50 points. We have three top lines; they have two, or one-and-a-half, so maturity and depth will help us to win, I hope.”

“It will be tough, but I like the kind of game that these will be,” Tourigny said. “There will be a lot of physical play, a lot of battles for the puck. It will be a very good series.”

Maineiacs’ netminder Jonathan Bernier knows the load now falls on his shoulders, and he is hoping to avoid a slow start he tends to have after coming back from an extended break.

“I have to come out stronger in the first game,” Bernier said. “It’s a huge game, having home ice advantage, so we have to take both games at home. I have to come out stronger and focus more.”

Travel will also play a key role in the series. The Huskies arrived Thursday night after spending most of the day in a bus. They will also bus home following Saturday’s Game 2. The Maineiacs, who were in the same situation when they faced Rouyn-Noranda three years ago, not only get to open up at home, but will fly to Games 3, 4 and 5.

“A big part of playoffs is resting, and starting here is a big plus for us,” Cliche said. “It really important to come in here and win here as much as we can.”

“I know Lewiston is the best team at home during the regular season, and they won all their games in the playoffs,” Tourigny said. “We know all of that, but we can’t control that. All we can do is play our ‘A’ game and see what will happen.”


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