Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of our series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

The 2009 Waterville Senior High School ice hockey state championship started small, the way most things do. Small children playing pickup hockey on a small backyard rink built by fathers. Skills are developed there, away from the structure of organized practices and adults.

“All of us seniors and juniors and sophomores grew up playing on those rinks,” Shawn Lee, a senior defensemen on the 2009 Purple Panthers, said.

Even as the hockey players grew, they continued playing their after-school games on the rinks at Lee’s house and John Massey’s, who had a rink in his yard across the street. When they reached junior high, Jeff Lee and Scott Massey, the fathers and architects of the backyard ice, had to caution the players to not beat each other up too much.

“So we went out there in shoes, hacking it up,” Ian Rowe, another senior on the 2009 team, said.

The 2008-09 season was full of highlights for the Waterville hockey team, culminating in the 3-2 win over St. Dominic at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to give the program its 20th championship and final title in Class A. The real work for the championship was put in during those pickup games, aided by players like John Massey, who graduated the year before the Purple Panthers won that title, their first since 2001.

“I knew the talent we had back.  We lost John Massey and Zach Jochem, but we kept the core,” Rowe said. “And we had tradition. Waterville walked into every season thinking we have a shot.”

The previous season, the Panthers lost the regional final to Lewiston. Head coach Dennis Martin knew he had a team that not only had talent, but the desire to work hard to harness it. An early-season loss to Falmouth in which Waterville surrendered a two-goal lead with uncharacteristic sloppy play and penalties, was the only loss of the 21-1 season.

“Their attitude was just not to lose. ‘No holds barred,’ that was our slogan all season,” said Martin, who is in his first season as head coach at Messalonskee High School this season. “Keep them moving. Everything was up-tempo all the time. The leaders, if they saw a guy dogging it in practice, they got on him.”

By 2005, Waterville’s enrollment had dropped to the point most of the school’s athletic programs competed in Class B. The Panthers petitioned the Maine Principals’ Association to play up in Class A in soccer and ice hockey, where they were still competitive despite have fewer players than most opponents.

“Waterville is a hockey town. Obviously, the kids take that to heart,” Cam Bishop, a senior forward in 2009, said.

The 2009 Panthers had depth across the board. Lee and Curt Chaput led a strong group of defenders. Waterville allowed just 40 goals in 22 games, and surrendered an average of 14 shots per game. Goalie Nolan MacDonnell posted 15 shutouts and a gaudy 1.06 goals against average. Waterville’s penalty kill was phenomenal, and the Panthers scored 21 shorthanded goals.

“Nolan MacDonnell was probably robbed of first team all-state. He had a million shutouts. We were a really good defensive team, but the shots he ended up facing, the difficulty level was much higher,” said Lee, who was a finalist for the Travis Roy Award, given annually to the state’s best Class A player.

Waterville goalie Nolan MacDonnell reaches for the puck to make a save against Lewiston during the 2008-09 season. Morning Sentinel file photo

Added Martin: “Sometimes it’s tough on a goaltender when you’re not seeing lots of shots, to get into rhythm. Nolan made big saves when we needed them.”

Offensively, Waterville didn’t have a top line. It had two. The line of Rowe, Josh Gaudette and Nick Deblois scored 35 goals. The line of Cam Bishop, Kyle Bishop and Eric Aldrich scored 38. All six players on those lines scored at least 20 points, with Aldrich (46 points) and Rowe (41) cracking 40 points in 22 games.

“We didn’t think of ourselves as a first line and second line,” Cam Bishop, who now teaches history at Wiscasset High School, said. “I would just try to get any pucks to Eric. He had the scoring touch.”

Even Lee got into the scoring, putting up 31 points, 14 goals and 17 assists, from the blue line while compiling a team-high +36. A separated shoulder kept Lee sidelined a few games, including the regional final against Lewiston. Lee was fitted with a brace for the state championship game.

“Whether it was good or bad, I was going to play,” Lee, who now lives in New Hampshire and works in insurance and sales, said. “The very first play of the game, the first whistle was an icing, and I got hit against the boards. He finished through his check and I kind of hurt it. I was like, ‘OK, game on.'”

Waterville’s Cameron Bishop looks to score a goal against Brunswick during the 2008-09 season. Morning Sentinel file photo

Injuries to other defensemen during the course of the state game, including Lee’s brother Matt, forced Martin to move Rowe to the blue line.

“I played defense on the power play as well, so it was an easy transition,” Rowe, who works for Motion Recruitment Partners, a tech industry recruiting agency, said.

Waterville had one major scare on the way to the state game, a regional playoff game against Bangor. The Rams jumped on the Panthers for an early three-goal lead.

“We’re down 3-0 and I’m thinking, ‘This is my last year. The run we’ve been on can’t end on this note,'” Cam Bishop said.

Waterville fought back to tie the game, and an Aldrich goal late put the Panthers ahead.

“I picked off a pass. I made a move on the goalie and buried it. I remember the whole team jumping off the bench and all of us celebrating in the corner,” Aldrich said. “Our team had a never say die attitude. We’d come back a few times. We had a big rivalry with Bangor back then. We beat them in overtime near the end of the (regular) season.”

In the state game, played before a packed house at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, Waterville scored three goals in the first period to take a 3-0 lead. St. Dom’s answered with a pair of goals, but MacDonnell and the Panthers defense clamped down and prevented the Saints from tying the game.

“Nolan absolutely stood on his head the rest of the game,” Rowe said.

“It was loud in there. It was a packed barn. It was a crazy environment,” said Aldrich, who co-owns Seven’s Barbershop in Biddeford.

Now well into their adult lives, Aldrich said members of the 2009 Waterville ice hockey team are still close.

“We just had a great time playing the game we loved to play,” Aldrich said.

Rowe recalled the pickup games on the backyard rinks, and how they helped instill the passion for hockey the team fed off during its title run.

“There’s always that bit of nostalgia,” Rowe said. “At that point in life, nothing matters as much as winning that state title.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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