LEWISTON — Prosperity has returned to the cradle of Maine hockey, at least temporarily, and the rest of the state is better for it.

Fifteen minutes prior to the start of Saturday afternoon’s Eastern Class A hockey semifinals at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, parking was at a premium. Above average snowfall and banks as tall as the three-story tenements that surround the property had something to do with that, of course.

But so did the inordinate number of vehicles — hockey-mom vans, hockey-dad trucks, student jalopies, all creatively wedged into spaces along the lot’s edge or snaking in a line that curved like a spine through the center of the snow-covered space.

For the first time in 11 years, all three Lewiston-Auburn-based Class A varsity hockey teams played on what has been dubbed “Super Saturday,” the confluence of four regional semifinals at the Colisee for a marathon set of the best high school hockey has to offer.

In 2004, hockey was at its modern peak in the Twin Cities. Edward Little won its second consecutive state final, topping St. Dom’s in the final after leapfrogging Lewiston in the regional final. Three of the final four teams playing in Maine that year called the region home.

But the underbelly of the programs was suffering. Area youth hockey struggled to its lowest enrollment figures in decades. Tryout numbers at all three schools faltered, and at Edward Little, long the third wheel on the Zamboni, lack of depth meant lack of success.

The Blue Devils picked up the slack in the East, winning four consecutive regional titles (and six overall through 2013).

Until 2010, the Saints plied their trade in the West. They, too, found their way to the state final, once in 2009 and again as an East team in 2012 and 2014.

But EL was nowhere to be found, either missing the playoffs or floundering in the quarterfinal round.

So what changed?

Thank the Lewiston Maineiacs.

Remember them, that Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise that called the Colisee home for eight seasons through 2011? They showcased some of the best junior hockey in the world to area residents for eight full seasons. They captured the hearts and hockey-watching minds of a legion of fans. Some would say too few fans cared. Some would argue the team should have done more for the fans, or for the community. On both counts, in some form, both factions are correct.

But the undeniable legacy of the Maineiacs is the heightened involvement at the youth level. The current crop of high-school-age players at Lewiston, St. Dom’s and Edward Little were born between 1997 and 2001. At their most impressionable, as they learned to lace skates and make crossover cuts across the Colisee ice, they grew up watching the Maineiacs play. It helped regenerate hockey hope in an area desperate for exactly that. They aspired to greater levels.

The young players’ motivation also re-energized their parents.

The politics behind youth hockey in the Twin Cities is ever-evolving. But the number of players in the various area organizations — boys and girls — has seen a dramatic boost, whether they play at the Colisee or at the sparkling new Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn.

Better numbers begets depth. Depth begets talent. Talent and invigorated coaching equal state championship aspirations — from every school in the region.

For three consecutive seasons, the Red Eddies have been a tough out in the quarterfinals. Saturday, they returned to the regional semifinals, owners of a win over Lewiston and an overtime loss to St. Dom’s, and full of confidence.

And this with only four seniors on the roster.

“It’s a really good season for our kids, especially for the seniors,” Edward Little coach Craig Latuscha said.

His head held high, the excitement in his eyes reflected that of his players, many of whom will return with this experience firmly planted in their back pockets.

“This is the fourth straight year we’ve made the playoffs,” Latuscha said. “Next year we’re going to come back with a huge junior class and our senior class as well. We have to continue to work hard and get better.”

So, too, will Lewiston and St. Dom’s. They’ll meet in the Eastern Class A final Tuesday at the Colisee. Both have similarly youthful rosters, both know that this year’s trek to the state title game is one of many more potential rides in the near future for all three area teams, due in part to the resurgence of the area’s youth hockey culture, and to a hockey team that no longer exists.

Enjoy the ride, hockey fans — as long as you can find a place to park.


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