LEWISTON – Eighty-two days ago, they called it a summer.

Eighty-two days ago, Eric Castonguay left the Androscoggin Bank Colisee 29 points shy of the Lewiston Maineiacs’ all-time scoring record, Pierre-Luc Faubert bid adieu to the City of Lewiston – again – and David Perron turned his attention, briefly, to bigger and better stages.

Eighty-two days ago, the Lewiston hockey community bid farewell to its champions.

There were no parades, no bally-hooed send-offs. The players slipped quietly away, leaving only memories.

In one fell swoop Friday morning, with one crunch of a skate blade digging into the bright-white ice at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, Marc-Andre Daneau put an end to a shorter-than-average off-season.

The Lewiston Maineiacs – the 2007 President’s Cup champion Lewiston Maineiacs – were back on the ice.

“It goes really fast,” Daneau said. “You have a short summer, but it was worth it, going to the (Memorial) Cup. It was good to be back here skating on the ice again.”

For some, the offseason was a welcome rest. Aching backs, sore shoulders and wounded egos needed repairing.

“The way we played, I don’t have any regrets for the season, the playoffs we had and the rest of the year,” Daneau said, “but at the Memorial Cup, we didn’t play our best hockey and it was a bit disappointing.”

But that only fueled an intensity in many of this year’s returning players. They were that close – just two minutes – from playing in the final game. Instead, after a brutal schedule that included a late-night play-in game, the Maineiacs left the Pacific Coliseum ice in Vancouver as the first team eliminated from the four-team Memorial Cup.

“We all knew it was going to be tough, but we didn’t know it was going to be as tough as it was,” veteran forward Chris Tutalo said. “It’s bitter knowing that we could have won the whole thing, but that’s what this year’s all about, getting back there and trying to finish off what we couldn’t finish last year.”

Harping on the final four games of the season while ignoring the first 87 would be shortsighted. In 70 regular-season games last season, the Maineiacs won 50. In 17 playoff games, they won 16. They swept three of the four teams they faced, and brought the President’s Cup across the United States’ border for the first time – the final 20 miles of which came complete with a police escort. Hundreds of people gathered chilly, late-spring night to welcome back a team that inspired people to hang banners across the cities.

With the mantle of being a champion now come the expectations. Season ticket sales are up. Partial package sales are up. Sponsorships are up.

And as he first chip of ice flew through the air behind Daneau on Friday morning, so began the Maineiacs’ quest, not only to satisfy their coaches and the team’s management, but to placate a growing fan base that felt that 82 days were far too many to spend without hockey.

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