From one game to the next during the high school hockey season, none of the remaining Class A state title contenders knew for sure that it would face another title contender and win.

Or lose.

Or tie.

Coaches love to tell anyone who will listen that their team has a chance to win every game.

“If we play well, stick to our game plan,” they say, “we can beat anybody. It’s about execution.”

With apologies to the countless coaches across the region who try to instill that in their players’ minds and hearts, sometimes, that just isn’t true.

But this year, in particular, those coaches are most certainly on to something.

Consider this: Lewiston has defeated Bangor; Bangor has defeated Lewiston; Bangor has defeated Falmouth; Falmouth has defeated Bangor; Falmouth has defeated St. Dominic Academy; St. Dom’s has defeated Falmouth. And then there’s Scarborough. And Thornton Academy. And Brunswick. The list continues — and becomes more convoluted — making Saturday’s Class A regional semifinals that much more exciting.

“Maybe it’s just the changing face of the game,” St. Dom’s coach Steve Ouellette surmised. “There’s more kids across the state playing, more rinks available to people than before. I think hockey is much more spread out than people realize, and maybe it’s finally starting to see the results of that.”

“I think it’s true parity in the top teams, combined with the fact that you’ve got teams where the talent pool has equalized,” Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau said. “You take that on top of the fact that you’ve got 18-game schedules that are as tough as you can have, and you have a lot of teams evening out.”

Bangor has the best record among the remaining teams in games played against teams in the final eight. The Rams are 7-2. Lewiston has played those same teams to an 8-3 mark, and Falmouth is 7-3. And Bangor is the one team to have defeated every Class A team on its schedule at least once.

“(Bangor has) had a great run, Falmouth’s turned it on, Lewiston’s had a great season,” Ouellette said. “They’ve probably all three been very consistent, but Bangor’s had the most success to this point.”

The Saints, who play Lewiston’s Blue Devils in what is sure to be another classic between the two longtime rivals in Saturday’s nightcap, went 4-7 against the remaining tourney field.

“We play the schedule for a reason,” Ouellette said. “A, you want to play good competition every night, we don’t want to hide when we go out there or pump up our record that way, but B, it’s really for, when we get to March. The guys should be ready, it’s a grind, it’s a long season, and they know what it takes.”

Belleau is quick to point out that while St. Dom’s won 10 games this season, their roles could easily be reversed.

“Sure, statistically, (St. Dom’s) has 10 wins, but they were one goal away in a handful of games from having 15 wins,” Belleau said. “Bangor won 15 games, we won 14. You can’t take that away from any of these kids.”

St. Dom’s lost four games by a single goal, and also tied once.

“We have a very good record against the teams that are left, and we had that stretch where we played three games in a row against the three top teams and lost each one by a single goal,” Ouellette said. “I know on the year there’s at least four because we had another OT loss in there. Hopefully we’ve learned from all those, and hopefully we’re ready to get it done. It’s a one-and-done now.”

And while the whole notion of parity is refreshing to the teams remaining in the fold, the intensity and pressure facing both Lewiston and St. Dom’s in Saturday’s Eastern A semifinal is nothing new to them, particularly in their stories histories.

“In terms of Lewiston/St. Dom’s, that’s normal,” Belleau said. “It’s the same thing every time we play, and to me, to this team, this game is no different.

“This is their chance to shine,” Belleau added. “They’ve played well all year, this is their chance. They’re playing their arch rival, I know our team, and they’re going to be ready.”

St. Dom’s will bring its tradition weapon to the fight: speed.

“We have a lot of guys that are pretty battle-tested, not just from this year but from last year,” Ouellette said. “I think our biggest asset is going to be our speed. We’re healthy for the most part, our legs are moving and we’re winning a lot of the battles by using our speed. That makes us very dangerous.”

Belleau concurred, and said neutralizing that speed with the Blue Devils’ experienced and stingy defensive corps is a top priority.

As for favorites among the remaining teams, given their play of late, Belleau said making that choice is extremely difficult.

“This year, you can clearly see that on any given night, any team has a chance to win,” Belleau said. “I can’t speak to Noble/Wells, but that’s really difficult. All three of the other teams (in Western A) have strengths. I think it’s a draw, really. But, nothing against the other teams, Falmouth’s got a proven top goalie. That’s not to say the other don’t have good goalies, but I think everybody knows, Falmouth’s Dane Pauls has been one of the top goaltenders in the state. You might have to tip your hat to them. They’ve been coming on strong of late.

“And as much as you want to argue parity, the same thing on the East side,” Belleau said, referring to Bangor’s veteran keeper Rye Powell.

Western A draws the early set of games this season. No. 4 Noble/Wells will face No. 1 Falmouth at noon, followed by No. 6 Thornton Academy and No. 2 Scarborough at 2 p.m.

In the night session, No. 1 Bangor will square off against No. 5 Brunswick at 6 p.m., followed by No. 2 Lewiston vs. No. 3 St. Dom’s at 8 p.m.


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