LEWISTON — There’s a wider-than-usual smile across the faces of the Lewiston Maineiacs’ coaching staff this week. The players are even more upbeat than their teenage personalities normally allow, and the mood in the locker room is recharged.

“It’s refreshing,” Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle said. “It’s been a while since we could see this kind of enthusiasm.”

The reason for it all? No more complicated than what the whiteboard near the locker room door tells each player as they walk in: After taking seven points out of the last possible 10, the Maineiacs are in third place in their division.

“The guys are working hard, they’re slowly starting to understand the system, and our special teams are starting to work well,” Houle said. “The players just need that push; they need to realize they can win.”

Nowhere was the team’s lack of familiarity with winning more apparent than in the third period of a pair of games last week. In both games — last Wednesday against Rouyn-Noranda and Sunday against Val d’Or — the Maineiacs held two-goal, third-period leads. In both games, the team went to overtime, losing once and winning once.

“That was the theme of this week in practice,” Houle said. “It was how to play with a lead. It’s a big advantage, at least it should be, to score first and play with a lead, and that will come as the players learn how to win games.”

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The seemingly constant juggling of lines also appears to be slowing. Houle has settled in on a few things he likes, and that includes spreading the wealth of talent throughout the lineup.

“Now we have skill guys all over the place, so it’s a threat no matter which line is out there,” Houle said.

The Maineiacs will need to be on their game this weekend in a key divisional showdown. The Victoriaville Tigres, who have played one less game than Lewiston, sit in fourth in the division with nine points, one back of Lewiston. The teams will play twice this weekend at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, once Friday night and again Sunday afternoon.

“We sat down before the season, coach Rumble and I, and we talked about what we wanted to do to prepare for games in general, and we decided it was best not to study other teams too hard and change game plans based on other teams,” Houle said. “With Victo, we know they have one of the best players in the league in Brandon Hynes, and we know their tendencies, but it’s more important for us to make sure our guys play the way we want our guys to play. We think if we can do that, we’re going to win some games.”

Hynes was last week’s Canadian Hockey League player of the week, and the Tigres also feature Philip-Michael Devos, who has five goals and 15 assists for 20 points in nine games.

In goal, Antonio Mastropietro and David Honzik have equally split time for the Tigres. Mastropietro has a solid history against Lewiston, and has recorded three of Victoriaville’s four wins this season. But Honzik’s raw numbers are actually better.

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Lewiston goaltending situation is similar, with rookie Andrey Makarov winning once, while veteran Nick Champion has registered three victories.

Moving on, moving up

As celebrated as the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is for advancing the careers of the young hockey players, the league has also served as a launching pad for some of the top coaches and off-ice hockey employees throughout the years.

The Maineiacs have again succeeded in that regard.

Alex Reed, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Maineiacs since September 2007, has accepted a position with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL and will leave his post with the Maineiacs following this weekend’s games.

“I am excited about this opportunity, as it is a big step in my career,” Reed said Wednesday night. “However, I leave behind a great community and a great organization. I have met so many wonderful people, and have made many lifelong friends here. I am going to miss it.”

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Reed joined the team after two weeks had passed in the 2007-08 season. Prior to that, he’d served in several capacities at WMUL-FM, the flagship radio station of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

“This team gave a guy from the south, straight out of college, a chance,” Reed said. “I will be forever grateful for the opportunity the Maineiacs organization has given me.”

Wheeling has held a franchise sine the late 1980s, and is considered one of the more stable hockey franchises in the ECHL. The Nailers currently hold affiliations with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens.

“I believe most broadcasters have goals to reach the highest level possible,” Reed said. “Wheeling is the next step for me in achieving these goals, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

Reed said he would remain with the Maineiacs through this weekend’s games, and people wanting to listen to him will still be able to Friday and Sunday against Victoriaville on WEZR-AM 1240.


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