Jay native Esa Maki is trying to earn a spot on the Twin City Thunder’s National College Development Conference team. RAM Sports Photography

AUBURN — Among the more than 90 attending the Twin City Thunder’s National Collegiate Development Conference team’s main camp are local standouts like former Lewiston High School players Jeromey Rancourt and Cody Doyon, who both played for the Thunder’s Premier team a season ago.

There’s also Dominic Chasse, who helped St. Dom’s win a Class A state championship in March and is slated to play for the Thunder’s midget team this season, the Twin City Lightning, this upcoming season.

Those players chose the more traditional route of playing for the local high school before embarking on their junior hockey careers.

Also trying to make an impression at the three-day camp a pair of area players who took a different path. Instead of high school, Norway’s Jack Morton and Jay’s Esa Maki went to prep schools in pursuit of their hockey dreams.

“That’s one of the huge upside of playing high school hockey, you are playing in front of good crowds, and in prep school, a lot of times you aren’t,” said Thunder NCDC coach Doug Friedman, who coached at Kents Hill, a prep school, from 2014-18. “You are playing more in front of your family and few of your fellow students.

“These guys have played a good level of prep, too, that really has elevated their game, and they have a good chance here.”

Morton, a 19-year-old forward, played youth hockey with the L/A Gladiators program. When it came time for high school, though, he did stay close to home, but at Hebron Academy, where he played for the Lumberjacks.

“I had a great experience at Hebron. I was out of the spotlight in terms of Maine public high school hockey, but a good spot for prep school (hockey),” Morton said. “I enjoyed my time there.”

Forward Jack Morton, a Norway native, warms up prior to a scrimmage during the Twin City Thunder’s USPHL National Collegiate Development Conference team camp Friday at Norway Savings Bank Arena. RAM Sports Photography

He said he enjoyed being out of the limelight because it allowed him to focus on his game.

During his senior season at Hebron in 2017-18, Morton scored three goals and had seven assists in 29 games.

After he graduated, he went to Pennsylvania and joined the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Knights of the Eastern Hockey League, a Tier III league under the USA Hockey umbrella. He nearly doubled his offensive output with nine goals and nine assists in 34 games.

“It was good exposure to junior hockey away from Maine, kind of see the rest of the country,” Morton said.

Friedman said Morton’s game has matured and his decision-making has improved since he coached against him in Hebron-Kents Hill matchups.

That improvement has led Morton back home as he tries to earn a spot at the Tier II level.

“I never expected the game to be at this level here,” Morton said. “It’s great to see some high-level hockey in Maine.”

If he’s not offered a spot with the Thunder organization, Morton said has the option to return to the EHL for a second season. Maki, a goalie, already has a lot of familiarity with the Thunder organization. He played for Friedman at Kents Hill (2015-17) and for Thunder Premier team coach Alex Drulia with the Cape Cod Islanders (2017-18).

Maki also played for the Maine Moose, a midget team, from 2015-17. The Moose are owned by Thunder owner Ben Gray, and Thunder goaltending consultant Joe Clark was an adviser with the team when Maki played for it.

“I think it’s definitely a good fit for me, having all the guys I played (for) pretty much the past five or six years, it feels pretty good,” Maki said. “I would like to play here.”

Maki said he also liked being out of the high school spotlight.

“I think it has definitely helped. I am not one that likes to be the center of attention all the time,” he said. “So, I think it has been good for me.”

Friedman said Maki, a 20-year-old, continues to improve and become more consistent each year.

Maki hopes to make the Thunder so he can play his final junior hockey season, but if not he will seek out opportunities elsewhere.

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