Red Hornets defense has been one of the keys to their success this year. The backbone of the team’s defense is goalie Manny Guimond, center, surrounded by Eve Martineau, left, Sophia Castagna, back center, and Cassady Bussiere, right. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — When Eve Martineau fed Caroline Tracey for the game-winning goal late in last Saturday’s North region semifinal, it wasn’t really a surprise that the Edward Little/Leavitt/Poland sophomore defender was on the ice.

Under different circumstances, Martineau might not have been.  The Red Hornets coaches wanted her out there, but they also needed her out there. 

Unlike many hockey teams, the Red Hornets don’t have six defenders to cycle through, or even four. They have advanced to Wednesday’s regional final using only three defenders, and that sometimes means extra-long shifts for the trio. 

“I know that late in the St. Dom’s game (assistant coach Larry Morin) had a good, little chat with Eve. It was like, ‘Hey, look at the clock, you got to give me four minutes here,’ because that’s what we needed at that point in the game,” Red Hornets coach Dana Berube said. 

“We basically wanted her out there for a good chunk of the end of the game,” added Berube, who considers Martineau one of the best defenders in the state. 

But it hasn’t been just her. Senior Cassady Bussiere and sophomore Sophia Castagna have also dealt with the added workload and kept the Red Hornets afloat on their voyage to the state’s final four. 

“Let’s face it, these girls are playing 35-plus minutes a game,” Berube said. “I know there’s a lot of conversations sometimes like, ‘What do you mean you need to come off? She just came off 20 seconds ago. You better go back out there.'”

With so much expected of them, the three defensive players have had to physically adapt to their expanded role.

“Definitely, I think the hardest part is just being conditioned, because obviously you don’t have as much break time,” Martineau said. “But we have three good defensemen, so it’s nice to be able to rely on each other, so we’re all pretty strong, so we can trust each other.” 

“I think one of the hardest struggles we had at the beginning of the year was, one, not being conditioned enough, and also thinking (we were going to have a fourth defender), and it kind of like held us back from pushing ourselves more,” Bussiere said. “So once we knew (it was just the three of us) it was just like, ‘OK, this is it for the rest of the year.’ So we kind of just pushed ourselves a little bit more each practice.” 

Berube said the team did “lots and lots of conditioning in January at the end of practices to really build up their legs, build up their stamina.” 

Berube said he thinks the first game of January was a turning point. Since a one-sided loss to rival Lewiston (which the Red Hornets will face in the regional final) on New Year’s Day, the team has gone 7-2-1 (including playoffs), with the only losses to Lewiston (again, but closer) and South finalist Cape Elizabeth/Freeport/South Portland. The one tie was against the other South finalist, Scarborough. 

“We kind of had some talks after that game and we turned the page,” Berube said. 

Turning the page has been important for the defenders, and Berube said they have been good at doing that. It also helps when the next shift is coming a little sooner than most defenders are used to. 

Castagna said she doesn’t feel any pressure to pick up a tired defensive partner when she is the fresh one, and that she trusts the other two in any situation. 

“They help out a lot,” she said. “I like playing with them. They’re very talented.” 

They’ve become a tight-knit trio, off the ice and on. Martineau and Castagna played travel hockey together growing up, and Bussiere was on the same team as Martineau in youth hockey when they were younger. On the ice, they know have the experience of playing with each of the other two and at each point spot. 

And all three have started games, though Berube said that doesn’t mean much, with the non-starter usually getting a shift in the first minute and plenty of playing time after that. The only constant is that Bussiere always gets a start because she is a senior.

Another constant is a fourth defender, of sorts: senior goalie Manny Guimond, the Red Hornets’ four-year starter. 

“It definitely makes it easier (having Manny) because sometimes you’re just so gassed, and you’re trying to get back but you just can’t. I just always am like, ‘Manny, she can probably handle it,'” Martineau said. 

“Manny’s I think a lot more vocal this year to try to tell our defensemen, ‘Hey, here’s where the pressure’s coming from, you know, ‘Quick,’ or, ‘You got time,'” Berube said. “Just those little things.” 

Guimond said she has trust in all three of the defenders in front of her. 

“They all know what they need to do and what I need to do,” she said. “They do a good job clearing away the rebounds and stuff like that.” 

Berube said the on-ice relationship between Guimond and the defenders has grown this season. 

“In years past, we haven’t done as a good as this year of letting Manny see the puck,” Berube said. “And I think we’ve done a much better job of that, this year is, ‘Hey, she’s the goalie … let’s not put ourselves in a position to screen her.’ Give her a good look at it and we’re supremely confident she’s going to come up with it if she gets a clean look at it.” 

The trio now has its hardest task yet, and the synergy with Guimond will have to be at its best when the Red Hornets face the Blue Devils for a third time, in Wednesday’s regional final at the Troubh Ice Arena in Portland (5:30 p.m.).

“I think we definitely know it’s going to be really hard,” Martineau said, “but I think we just try and focus on doing our job and that’s all we can do.” 

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