AUBURN — Gavin Bates turns heads from the stands and from the opposing bench, turns away opposing forwards, and can turn games around in multiple ways. And he’s helping the St. Dominic Academy boys’ hockey team turn the page from last year’s state championship runner-up season.

Bates “blended in” with last year’s Saints team, according to first-year head coach Bob Parker, who was the program’s JV coach last year.

“Now this year, he stands out — his size, his game, his skill set out there,” Parker said. “And his leadership on the ice stands out quite a bit.”

Last year. Bates burst onto the scene as a freshman on a talented team full of seniors. He’s only a sophomore, but now he’s one of only a few veterans on this year’s team, and one of its go-to players.

“The seniors did a good job getting me ready for the next year,” the solidly-built 6-foot-4 defenseman said. “I feel like every time I stepped on the ice I was getting challenged, and I feel like my spot was on the line every time. And I had to work for my ice time.”

Bates earned that ice time again this season, but now he’s more than just another guy for the Saints. In some moments, he’s ‘the guy.’

“He’s one of the players that I like to feature stuff around and to build things around,” Parker said. “For Gavin, the power play is built kind of around him. Going against the other team’s tough players is kind of built around him. Logging in lots of ice time is given to him. And he never says no, he always asks a lot of questions if he’s not sure of himself, which helps me out.”

Parker said the team needs a player like Bates, a big, two-way player who can blast an opposing player into the boards at one end, then blast an on-target shot from the blue line or closer at the other end.

Parker said Bates is undoubtedly a leader on the team, even at a young age. He’s not the captain (that belongs to forward Austin Roy) or assistant captain (fellow forward Isaac Lapointe), yet players still naturally gravitate to him.

“He’s a leader in how he goes about his work on the ice, how he goes about preparation to get on the ice, and his way of making his fellow teammates work harder during the game and pay attention to the things that need to get done,” Parker said.

“Being one of the returning defensemen, I knew that I had to be a leader and I knew I had to step into a role,” Bates said. “Austin Roy is a great captain. Isaac Lapointe is a great assistant. We got guys like Sam Blaisdell. He’s a big boy; he’s a smart hockey player. He’s a good player to work with. We all got guys that need to step it up.”

Bates has certainly stepped up his game this year, as he’s stepped into an increased role. He said teammates look to him to make the big hit.

“It kind of comes natural, I’d say,” Bates said in regards to being physical.

Bates’ role in Parker’s system also calls for joining in the offense when the game plan or situation dictates it. He wasn’t looked upon to score last year on a team overflowing with goal-scorers, scoring once in the regular season and once more in the playoffs, but he has the ability to light the lamp, and has already done so twice this season.

“When you have a player that can control the puck, has speed, has a heck of a shot, you want him on the ice as much as possible,” Parker said. “So depending on the flow of the game, whether you need a little pick-me-up to get your forwards going and to get maybe some players going, he’s a great player to do that.

“His shots are going to be quality shots. They’re not going to be a weak wrist shot. Good power shots.”

Parker said his eyes were first opened to Bates when he coached him during some summer hockey games before his freshman season. Parker said he went home and told his wife about “this Gavin Bates that I’d heard about” and finally got the pleasure of seeing play in person.

“I was fascinated by his open eyes, and his willingness to listen, and it was impressive,” Parker said. “He was willing to please.”

Bates said in learning to adapt to his size his skating took the biggest hit. He admits he’s not the fastest or best skater, and opponents try to manipulate his feet and get him into trouble. He counters that with a long stride and good positioning.

Yet, there’s a part of Bates’ skating that Parker said is rare.

“I haven’t seen too many true hockey players with that power to take off,” Parker said. “Honestly, truthfully, the last time I saw a player take off with that much power was (former St. Dom’s and University of Maine standout) Greg Moore on a tryout many years ago.”

Parker also mentioned another former Black Bear and Maine native, Derek Damon, and said “sometimes I go back to those guys when I see Gavin.”

It should be reminded that Bates is just a sophomore, something some out-of-state coaches that played against the Saints this year were shocked to hear.

“A couple of them mentioned Gavin and how nice and polished he was, and they couldn’t believe he was only a sophomore,” Parker said.

Bates is still growing as a player, as is his relationship with Parker, according to the coach, who is still figuring out his strengths and weaknesses and how best to maximize his talented blue-liner.

Bates said he still needs to learn how to conserve his energy, and not let the better teams get him into hitting everything in sight and wear him out.

Most of all, Bates wants to help get the Saints back into the playoffs and hopefully another long postseason run. And he wants the respect of the opposition.

“At the end of the game I want people to shake my hand, and not chirp, look in my eyes and just say ‘good game, Gavin,'” Bates said. “That to me is a compliment, like you’re a respected player. I want to be a feared defenseman, like if you come across the blue line, like he might hit you. I wouldn’t mind being a solid defenseman, but also gets up in the offensive play.”

Parker said that besides being a coach, he’s also a fan of the game, and can’t help but admire Bates’ work on the ice from that point of view. Then when getting back into coach mode, he’s just glad he has Bates on his side.

“I’m glad on he’s on this team, and I don’t have to coach against him,” Parker said, “because he’s got a lot of talent.”

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