Greely’s Danita Storey, back, tries to slow down Lewiston/Monmouth/Oak Hill’s Bree Bergeron as she heads up the ice during a game at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston during the 2015-16 season. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

At first, Lewiston native Bree Bergeron was set to play on the Middlebury College women’s hockey team this year.

Late in the summer, though, she decided not to attend Middlebury, a Division III school, and she thought her competitive playing career was over. She instead focused on other schools who were still accepting applications for the 2020-21 school year and offered nursing.

“I was supposed to go to Middlebury all the way until early August-late July. It just ended up being too much money (and) they weren’t able to bring their price down,” Bergeron said. I was thinking of taking a year off, but I was also looking at other schools who were still accepting applications and Merrimack was one of them, so I decided to apply.”

She was accepted to Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts. The school has a women’s Division I program that plays in Hockey East, but Bergeron wasn’t sure if she was going to pursue trying to make the team.

After playing one season at Lewiston High School in 2015-16, Bergeron moved to Loomis Chaffe, a prep school in Windsor, Connecticut that plays in the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council. She played there for four seasons.

Lewiston native Bree Bergeron has made the Merrimack College women’s hockey team as a freshmen. Jim Stankiewicz

While she hadn’t received much recruiting interest from Division I schools in her junior and senior years, she did receive some interest from Quinnipiac University (Hampden, Connecticut) as a sophomore.

Bergeron was the captain at Loomis, where she was All-NESPAC first-team defenseman in 2019-20.

A couple of weeks after being accepted to Merrimack, she started to get recruited by the school’s hockey coaches.

While considering an offer to try out for the team, Bergeron leaned on some former Loomis teammates who already were playing DI hockey in Jenna Donahue (Dartmouth College) and Jess Schryver (Northeastern) for guidance.

“I called both of them several times, especially (Jess Schryver) who plays at Northeastern,” Bergeron said. “They kept telling me, ‘You can do this Bree, have confidence. We have played with you for four years we know you can do this.’”

Bergeron also reached out to fellow Lewiston native Lauren DeBlois, who plays another Hockey East school, Providence College.

The tryout was unique for both Bergeron and the Merrimack coaching staff.

“She came out and she was a trooper. She came out with us in a one-on-two, since we had two coaches on the ice and her for the initial tryout because we couldn’t get her mixed with the cohorts at the beginning due to COVID,” Merrimack women’s hockey coach Erin Hamlen said. “It was an interesting experience. It was probably the most unique tryouts she has ever had as a hockey player, but she handled it like a trooper and she showed enough that we brought her in for another tryout.”

Lewiston native Bree Bergeron has made the Merrimack College women’s hockey team as a freshmen. Jim Stankiewicz

Bergeron was able to have a second tryout in a team setting and was told she made the team after that session. She became first player to walk onto the women’s hockey at Merrimack since the program started during the 2015-16 season.

“That was definitely new for me, I have always tried out with a bunch of other girls, so it was definitely weird having the whole spotlight on me,” Bergeron said. “But it was tiring, I just had to get through it knowing I really wanted this. It was rep after rep, but I was really excited.”

Both Bergeron and Hamlen said the rest of the team welcomed Bergeron with open arms. The season normally starts up in September but Hockey East will open the season up this weekend.

Bergeron thinks the delay has helped her integrate with the team.

“It really helped in the sense I wasn’t behind (the rest of the team) when I tried out,” Bergeron said. “The team didn’t have a full-team practice yet which was in my favor for sure because if COVID hadn’t happened, the team would have come all in the summer and have been skating together for a couple of months by then.”

OPENING UP AGAINST DEBLOIS

Lewiston native Bree Bergeron has made the Merrimack College women’s hockey team as a freshmen. Jim Stankiewicz

As fate has it, Merrimack opens up against Providence this weekend with a home-and-home series on Friday and Saturday. They played against each other in prep school as DeBlois played at New Hampton School (New Hampton, New Hampshire).

The pair didn’t play with each other at Lewiston High School, but they played with each other at Lewiston Middle School and with the Portland Junior Pirates.

She hopes she will be in the lineup to face her friend this weekend but knows she needs to take it one day at at time as a walk-on freshman.

“I just want to get better every day,” Bergeron said. “I am hoping to get some playing time, but (I need) to get stronger, faster and be a strong, reliable defenseman. That’s my biggest goal.”

Merrimack faces Holy Cross, which is coached by Lewiston Katie Lachapelle, on Dec. 11-12.

Hamelin said Bergeron has done everything that’s been asked of her in practices so far, to the point where Bergeron may see some playing time. The difficulty is jumping right into Hockey East play where the games matter more than a non-conference game. The Warriors were 5-24-2 overall last season. In a normal season, Merrimack usually opens with a non-conference opponent, but Hockey East won’t be playing non-conference teams.

“I think right now, we will do our best to get her in the lineup,” Hamlen said. “I think she will be given an opportunity at some point. Whether it’s a regular shift or not is to be seen, but I don’t think she put herself in any situation to be out of the lineup at this point. She has done a great job being smart on how she plays and I would say she’s an asset to our team in the way she plays.”

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