Cam Robichaud coaches the Maine Nordiques Prep Academy U16 team during practice in Lewiston on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The 2020-21 hockey season has officially started.

The Maine Nordiques Prep Academy two teams opened their seasons Monday and Tuesday at the River Rats Jamboree in Exeter, New Hampshire. It was a near-perfect start for the program, as the U16 team and the U18 team combined for a 5-0-1 start.

Players from the Maine Nordiques Prep Academy U16 team take a break from drills in Lewiston on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The U16 team went 3-0, defeating Mid-Fairfield (Connecticut) 5-3, the Springfield (Massachusetts) Rifles 4-1 and the Boston Imperials 2-1. The U18 team opened their season 2-0-1 by skating to a 3-3 tie with the Neponset Valley River Rats (Massachusetts), then earning a 4-1 win over the Springfield Rifles and a 7-1 win over the East Coast Militia (Massachusetts).

While Maine Nordiques organizational general manager Eric Soltys is happy to see the results on the ice, he’s just as glad that everything has gone smoothly on and off the ice the first two weeks the teams have been together, including their partnership with Saint Dominic Academy.

“It’s an absolute wonderful way to start for these kids; the wins don’t mean as half as much the way we went about our wins,” Soltys said. “It’s been a two-week process here, since training camp has started. Having (Maine Nordiques organization owner) Dr. (Darryl) Antonacci right in the trenches with the boys, making sure everything is running appropriately, having (Saint Dominic Academy President) Tim Gallic at school, consistently in communication with us at the academy — it has worked out as we thought it would.”

Soltys credits the teams’ coaches — Nick Skerlick (U18) and Cam Robichaud (U16) — for the fast starts on the ice.

“The way both coaches prepared their groups to play to their strengths at each level shined through tremendously,” Soltys said. “You got a guy who recruited most of these players in Coach Skerlick, (he) knows (them) and knows how to utilize them. You have coach Robichaud coming in from the NAHL (team) … (Skerlick and Robichaud) hit it off as a staff and they really helped each other as far as coaching philosophy and really getting to know the players — how to utilize the players to the best of their strengths.”

Soltys was impressed with the two goalies on the U16 team — Dylan Grover and Joe Walsh — along with forwards Gabriel Filion and Roman Vitolo and defenseman Matthew Nesto.

Vitolo earned distinction of scoring the first goal for the U16 team in the game against Mid-Fairfield. It also was the first goal for the entire program in its first full season in Lewiston (the U18 team was based in New Jersey in 2019-20).

“Zion Green, one of my linemates, was able to skate down and he was able to do a little wrap around the net, I found myself coming into the zone as the late guy, he feeds it to me and I just took an one-timer at the top of the circle, it went in,” Vitolo said. “It’s a good feeling, going (up) 1-0 against a really good (Mid-Fairfield) team that’s been tops in the country over the years.”

As for the U18 team, Soltys thought goalie Ansel Holt, who took part in the NAHL training camp a few weeks ago, was solid in the two games. Defenseman Easton Zueger had four assists in the three games for the U18 team.

The players say they need to be mentally sharp if they want to continue to have success.

“First, we don’t get it into our heads, especially when we are winning,” Zueger said. “Consistency will be the key to everything, it’s going to be how we are going to adapt to our mistakes, how we adapt after our bad games and bounce back after every game.”

The River Rats Jamboree was the first event in the Beast Series. The Prep Academy hopes each team will play a 60-70 game schedule this season. Both teams head back to New Hampshire for the Labor Day Showcase in Hudson. The U16s play Saturday and Sunday, while the U18 team plays Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

The Beast Series has become one of the top leagues in midget hockey since its inception in 2017.

“All the powerhouses have come together to form this Beast league. We were fortunate to get in last year at the U18 level, and did have some solid success. We were able to be re-invited to the U18, and U16 level now,” Solty said. “It’s basically your top U18, U16, U15 and U14 youth organizations around the Mid-Atlantic and New England area. It’s really a draw for Division I colleges coaches, NAHL scouts and USHL scouts, as far as events to hit out east here for recruiting.”

Cam Robichaud coaches the Maine Nordiques Prep Academy U16 team during practice in Lewiston on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

In addition to Beast Series, the Prep Academy will also play non-league games as part of the 60- to 70-game seasons. They hope to have their first U18 home game against the Maine Moose 18U team, the affiliate of the Twin City Thunder. The Moose played in the United States Premier Hockey League’s 18U league and since USPHL midget leagues are sanction by USA Hockey — unlike its junior hockey leagues, in which the Twin City Thunder play — the Moose are able to square off against the Maine Nordiques Prep Academy.

The two organizations met last February, when the Moose team was known as the Twin City Lightning, for a weekend series at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. 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.