LEWISTON — The L/A Fighting Spirit ended the regular season on a roll, and they’d like nothing more than to carry that momentum into the North American 3 Eastern Hockey Leagueplayoffs this weekend.

The Spirit enter their first-round Eastern Division playoff series in the NA3EHL against the New England Stars winners in nine of their past 11 games, which helped them rally into the No. 2 position in the standings and earn home-ice advantage. They earned the second seed with a tiebreaker over the Stars, as both teams finished with 67 points. The Fighting Spirit had more wins — 33 to the Stars’ 32.

The best-of-three series starts on Friday with a 7 p.m. puck drop at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, with Game 2 slated for Saturday night, also at 7 p.m. If necessary, a deciding Game 3 would be played Sunday at 2 p.m.

“We have played some decent hockey down the stretch,” L/A Fighting Spirit coach Rod Simmons said. “The new guys we have brought in have been good additions to fulfill what we need. Once again, it would be nice to have a full lineup. We have battled through things all year, we have battled through some tough things, a lot of life skills. We look forward for the chance to host a playoff series.”

The roll they are on began Feb. 5 with a 6-2 victory over the East Coast Minutemen, and ended with a 9-3 victory, also against the Minutemen, this past Sunday. L/A’s two blemishes during the season-ending run came in the second game, when they dropped a 5-3 decision to Eastern Division No. 1 Cape Cod, and against the Stars on Feb. 24.

During that same stretch, the Stars went 9-1-1.


Part of the Fighting Spirit’s success the past month has been thanks to the new faces that have come in since late January. Defenseman Thomas Puetz has had the biggest impact on score sheet since his arrival on Jan. 29. In 13 games, he has eight goals and 11 assists. Another defenseman, Linder Kenyon, has a goal and eight assists in 13 games since joining the Fighting Spirit. Casey Labonte — a forward — has three goals and four assists in eight games, but hasn’t played since the 3-1 loss to the Stars on Feb. 24.

“They bring a lot to the table,” Dylan Vrees said. “Puetz and the Florida kids, they all work really hard and they bring a lot of intensity which helps us too, gets us pumped up.”

Kyle Secor, Clay Janowiak and Liam McGrath came from the Daytona Racers of the United States Priemier 3 Hockey League. 

While the new guys have made an instant impact, team veteran Dylan Vrees in his past ten games has 12 goals and seven assists. Eight of his 12 goals have come in the past three games. He finished the season with 33 goals and 30 assists in 38 games to lead the team in both goals and in assists.

Vrees said he just needs to keep his game simple and continue to work hard.

New England won the regular-season series between the two clubs, taking five of seven from the Fighting Spirit, including three one-goal games and three two-goal games. The only game any more lopsided than those was Fighting Spirit’s 4-1 victory this past Saturday.


“That was basically the first game of the series right there,” Vrees said. “That kicked it off. I feel confident going into the series against them. We had some systems in place that worked very well.”

Simmons believes special teams will become a factor this weekend.

“Our power play started to click a little bit more towards the end of the year,” he said. “We had some power play goals (Sunday) and that’s the difference. If we can put home a couple of special team goals in, the difference has is they have put in a couple on us throughout the year and that’s how they beat us. Especially (on Saturday) our man-down played well and whenever you can get up a goal or two on the power play it’s solid.”

Six of New England’s 15 goals against the Fighting Spirit have come on the man advantage. L/A has four power play goals against the Stars, with half of them coming on Saturday.

Brett Bittner leads the Fighting Spirit with three goals and two assists in six games against the Stars. New England’s leading scorer, Ryan Gauvin, has four goals and three assists in seven games against L/A.

Scoring has been at a premium, as well. The teams have the league’s top two goalies. Claes Endre of the Fighting Spirit has a 14-8-1 record with a goals-against average of 2.00 and a .917 save percentage. New England’s Dominic Lamanno has an 11-3-1 record with a 2.08 gaa and a .918 save percentage.


“We always believe defense wins championships,” Simmons said. “We are heading down that right direction. We just need not to grip the stick to tight and take a deep breath. We have some guys that have been in this situation before and we need that maturity to step up.”

Bittner, who was on last year’s team that went to the NA3EHL finals, hopes he can bring that experience to the guys this year. He joined the team in October after taking some time to figure out if he wanted to play hockey this year, or head to school.

“I am going to try to to keep them motivated and if we get down on ourselves we got to try and stop that, trying to stay positive is a big thing for us really,” Bittner said

This weekend’s winner will meet the winner of the Cape Cod/Skylands series next weekend, with the highest remaining seed hosting the three-game series.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.