LEWISTON – Respect – for the game of hockey, for life, and for the opportunities each has given them.

Lewiston Maineiacs’ Head Coach and General Manager Ed Harding’s message to his players really is that simple.

“My biggest expectation for all of the guys on this team is that they have to realize that it’s a privilege to play major junior hockey in Lewiston,” Harding said. “When you take the whole concept of it, with the host families opening up their homes to these kids, to letting them try to chase their dream. That’s probably the biggest thing they’re going to learn this year, and they’ll be held accountable for that.”

The players aren’t the only ones Harding is holding accountable, either.

“It’s a privilege for me to coach this team, and stand in front of this community and represent them, and I want that conveyed to our players, as well.”

Harding has been with the Lewiston Maineiacs since the franchise began in 2003 as an assistant coach. The team added the title of assistant general manager two years later, and this year he begins his first season in charge of hockey operations.

“I think after five years, it was a pretty smooth transition,” Harding said.

A few things have changed already, starting with the camp’s size.

“My philosophy is, with less players,” Harding said. “I don’t want to waste my scouts’ and my coaching staff’s time by bringing in 75 people. We wanted it below the 50-range, and we knew we had some guys who weren’t going to be here.”

Harding also said that bringing in fewer players adds fewer extraneous names to the protected players’ list, which is now just 50 players per team.

“We had a lot of guys on that list that just couldn’t compete for a spot here,” Harding said. “Now, we should have guys 1 through 50 on that list that could potentially play on this team, and we wanted to strengthen that so we have a lot of depth. I think we’ve done that.”

This year, Harding has the most American-born players in camp since the team arrived – eight in all. That, he said, is coincidence. And the difference between these American players and some from the past?

“It’s quality,” Harding said. “The 40-some-odd kids we have in camp are all good hockey players, and I don’t care where they’re from. If there are 23 French-Canadian kids on the roster, then I’ll be very happy. “If there’s 23 kids from the Maritimes, I’m equally as happy, as long as they want to compete and play hard.”

Harding is hoping that competing hard for a spot will translate into a solid work ethic throughout the season.

“I think we’re going to be a little bit tougher and stronger, without giving up much speed,” Harding said. “I really like the way some of these young kids and some of these invites are playing.”

There have also been negatives already, from the first stretching exercises in off-ice training.

“Some of the kids came in and they weren’t in great shape, and that’s been addressed,” Harding said. “You see a smile on my face right now, though, because I don’t mind getting them in shape. It’s going to be worse than them getting themselves in shape over the summer.”

The end result? Harding says that will play out over the course of the season.

“This team is going to be tough to play against,” Harding said with a wide smile.

He paused, and then repeated himself.

“This team is going to be tough to play against,” he said. “You want me to spell it out for you? Other teams are not going to want to play the Lewiston Maineiacs.”

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