LEWISTON — Junior- and senior-dominated hockey teams are almost always favorites to bring home the hardware each season. Chemistry, talent and familiarity with big games typically point teams on a path of success.

This year’s St. Dominic Academy squad is hoping to buck that trend.

Sure, the Saints (12-6-1) have a handful of upperclassmen on the roster. Three skaters — Will Desmarais, Zack DeBlois and Kyle Holtet — and goalies Austin Christopher and Grant Carrier will graduate in the spring, and the junior class has six representatives on the roster.

But the ebb and flow of the Saints’ season in 2012-13 has depended in large part on the play of the seven-man sophomore class.

The initial inexperience led to a rough start to the season against one of the toughest schedules in Maine.

“When you start off the season like we did, at 1-3-1, you look at those first five, six games we had, they were all tough games,” St. Dom’s head coach Steve Ouellette said. “Guys get down a little on themselves. They think it’s going to be easy. It’s not easy, it’s never easy when you play who we have to play. You just have to keep focused, keep with the program and keep moving forward.”

Since opening night, the Saints’ roster has been in flux. Various injuries — to upper- and underclassmen alike — have forced the team and its skaters to adapt.

“There was a little inexperience at the beginning, but now everyone’s more up to date with the way things work,” forward Brad Berube said. “It’s helping a lot.”

Berube leads the team with 22 points, and three of the team’s top six in points are sophomores.

“He’s obviously got great skating skills,” Ouellette said. “He’s got excellent vision and great hands. But his size right now, the reach aspect, does come into play. But he overall just really understands the game. He understands how things flow and he gets both sides of the puck. Brad can put up a lot of points someday, and he has started to establish himself in that role.”

Fellow sophomores Caleb Labrie, Cam Stewart and Dillon Pratt all play at the forward position. Brian Bonenfant, Mitch Lorenz and Matt Chasse help anchor the defensive side of the ice, the side Ouellette said is the hardest to teach younger players who can sometimes get caught up in goals and assists.

“It’s taken a while for this sophomore class to really start seeing that you have to play defense,” Ouellette said. “They were focused on points, I think, and they’re starting to realize, you have to play defense first.”

Labrie has nearly averaged two points per game in the final stretch of the season for the Saints. A bruising forward, he has the speed and stick skills to play in a top-six role.

“As far as red line out to the offensive goal, (Labrie) is definitely focused,” Ouellette said. “He can carry the puck, he’s got a very quick release and he can do a lot of things like that.”

Like many of the 10th-graders, though, Labrie’s best work may yet be ahead of him as he grows defensively.

“It’s taken him a while to come through with a little more puck distribution,” Ouellette said. “He’s picked up his defensive game, but he still has a lot of work to do on that side of it, but I think when he’s focused on that, he’s going to be a real good player.”

As sophomores, size can be a factor, as well. Many teenagers are still growing, and that means playing against larger competition while also adjusting to your own changing size.

That’s when skating ability takes over.

“Speed, speed is everything,” Berube said. “As long as you can skate by them, they’re not going to be able to get a body on you.”

With the handful of injuries that have come and gone throughout the Saints’ roster, some of the sophomores have had to step into larger roles more quickly than Ouellette had planned.

“It was a negative when we lost guys during the season, like (Tuesday) we lost Cam’s brother (Calvin Stewart left the game early after a hit),” Labrie said. “But the injuries have made everyone step up and made a lot of the younger guys able to be more confident they can play with everyone.”

Familiarity hasn’t been a problem like it might have been elsewhere, or in other years. Most of this year’s sophomores either played or practiced with the varsity team as freshmen, and many played together last summer.

“(Berube) got to play with some upperclassmen last year, and now he’s making the transition to a leader himself,” Ouellette said. “And then you have guys like Caleb and Cam who were mostly practice players for us last year. But they were at practices all year long, and that’s starting to pay off.”

“A lot of the sophomores and juniors, we played together over the summer on midget teams, we did a lot of training together as a team instead of doing it individually,” Labrie said. “That brought us all a lot closer.”

Case in point: In the third period of Tuesday’s quarterfinal win over Skowhegan, five Saints celebrated Pratt’s goal, his fifth of the season with a group hug in the corner behind the goal line. All five players in the huddle were sophomores.

Bangor will test the Saints’ youth Saturday. The Rams — 8-5 victors over MHW in their quarterfinal Tuesday — have six seniors and six juniors on their roster. They defeated St. Dom’s twice this season — 6-3 on Dec. 29, and 5-4 on the last day of the regular season — and hold a significant size and age advantage.

But the Saints are 12-2 in their past 14 games. The underclassmen have learned quickly to play with one another, and with two stalwart keepers and a whole lot of team speed, St. Dom’s isn’t seeing much of a disadvantage.

“It’s confidence,” Berube said. “Our team is so close this year. Everyone is able to do what they need to do and our teammates have confidence that we’ll get that done.”


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