LEWISTON – The wait is over.

Tonight, at 7 p.m. at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, the Lewiston Maineiacs and Val-d’Or Foreurs meet in Game 1 of the President’s Cup final. The series winner will advance to the Memorial Cup tournament in Vancouver. The loser will call it a season, just shy of 280 days after it all began, and just about 100 days before the next season opens.

It’s been a long haul for both squads, which each finished atop their respective divisions at the end of the regular season.

That was almost two months ago.

“This is what it’s all for,” Maineiacs’ coach Clem Jodoin said. “The team is ready to play.”

Both teams are being a bit cautious, though. They don’t want the emotional side of the game to get in the way of hockey sense.

Val-d’Or coach Eric Lavigne is particularly aware of the dangers of becoming too emotional. It was likely all he could do to keep his players’ emotions in check this week after the Foreurs dispatched Cape Breton in Game 7 of the semifinals Tuesday night at home.

“There was a lot of emotion,” Lavigne said. “Now, it’s back on track because we know we have a great, great challenge to play against Lewiston.”

The win over the Screaming Eagles, in Jodoin’s estimation, was the first real upset of the playoffs – not because he thought Val-d’Or would lose, but because whichever team won, another quality team had to be left behind.

“In my mind, they created the first upset of the playoffs, being down 3-1 and coming back to win,” Jodoin said. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Lewiston and Val-d’Or squared off twice this season.

In December, Lewiston was without Jodoin, captain Marc-Andre Cliche and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who were at Team Canada’s selection camp, and Chad Denny, who was hurt.

The Foreurs were without Kristopher Letang and Brad Marchand, who were also with Team Canada, and without Jeremy Duchesne, Felix Schutz, Jerome Samson, Jason Legault and Justin Saulnier, who had not yet been acquired in many separate trades.

“I think more than half of their team is done by trades,” Jodoin said. “But that’s the way they built it up. It’s a good team.”

In March, the teams met again, this time in Val-d’Or. Trailing by one with a minute to play, the Maineiacs got a goal from Simon Courcelles at 19:00 to tie it up. Courcelles scored again in overtime to lift Lewiston to the improbable win.

To come out ahead, Lavigne said, the Foreurs need to find a way to slow the Maineiacs down.

“If you want to beat Lewiston, you have to be patient,” Lavigne said. “If you panic because they are using the walls, they are using a good defensive game, if you panic and you open the play, you will be in trouble. It’s like a game of chess.”

Lavigne knows Lewiston’s system well. He and Jodoin were colleagues with the Montreal Canadiens, and have learned many of the same philosophies.

“It’s going to be a chess game,” Jodoin said, sounding like Lavigne’s echo.

On the ice, the teams’ special units will undergo particular scrutiny. Val-d’Or held the league’s top power play without a power-`play goal in the final three games of its semifinal tilt against Cape Breton.

“For us, the PK has done a great, great job,” Lavigne said. “If we want to keep working in the same way, we’re going to have to be very efficient, especially on the PK, because we know (Lewiston) has a lot of good hands around the net and a lot of good shooters from the blue line.”

The Lewiston power play, meanwhile, has steadily built itself back into one of the league’s best when it has mattered most.

Games 1 and 2 are tonight and Saturday night. The series shifts to Val-d’Or for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5, starting next Tuesday.


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