James Philpott of the Maine Nordiques scores a power play goal against Maryland goaltender Hannes Kollen during the first period of Game 1 of the NAHL East Division final at The Colisee in Lewiston on Friday, June 4, 2021. Ron Morin photo

Plans changed quickly for the Maine Nordiques organization, which is in its second year in the North American Hockey League. On Saturday, the Shreveport Mudbugs ended the Nordiques’ season with a two-game sweep in the NAHL’s Robertson Cup semifinals, which took place in Blaine, Minnesota.

“Two years ago, I would be lying if I said yes, but this year at training camp I really thought we had an opportunity to do something really special,” Maine Nordiques coach Nolan Howe said of reaching the semifinals. “It was a gut feeling that I had with how tight-knit the boys were right off the bat. … Two years ago, I would have said it was going to be a five-year plan, but at training camp, we thought we had a special group.”

The chemistry of the team developed right off the bat in the regular season, going 8-2 in the first month. Howe said the key to the success of the fast start was believing in the group and not messing with the roster when players became available because other leagues were canceling or postponing the season.

Howe was pleased with the start of the year, especially with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the group continuing to grow as players and people.

“We grew on and off the ice in a season like any other with all the COVID restrictions and delay, protocols that we had to get through,” Howe said. “What I am really proud of is how our young men grew as a family and grew as individuals in their own games and the organization as a whole.”

Like any other team, the Nordiques had ruts in the season, especially at the end of the season when fans were able to return to The Colisee. That stretch was a good reminder to the team.

The Nordiques went 4-7 in April and then won the final three regular-season games in May. They finished the regular season with a 35-19-2 record and finished second in the East Division.

“Every team goes through that at some point of the year, it was unfortunate it was the first time that fans were back in the building (since October),” Howe said. “I think our guys took that adversity to become better as a team. I think that was the catalyst for what led to the postseason run.”

This season, the team’s core was based around the 2000 birth-year players who were in their final junior hockey eligibility, with the likes of Stefan Owens, who led the team with 24 goals and 27 assists in 56 games, Isaiah Fox, Jack Strauss and Cannon Green. All four players were in their second year with the organization.

Howe believed the four were going to be the key to the success of the team this year.

“Absolutely, you look at those guys and a leader like Jack Strauss back,” Howe “Those guys did a great job setting the tone from the beginning of training camp, but it started with our hard work day in and day out.”

He thought the entire group stepped their game up during the year, including second-year defenseman Luke Antonacci and the Hound-Dogg line of Caden Pattison-Jackson Vercellono-Jack Strauss.

Maine Nordiques goalie Tyriq Outen makes a pad save against the Northeast Generals at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston earlier this season. Ron Morin photo

The team added other 2000-born players like goalie Tyriq Outen, who had experience in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is still looking at his options next year, whether to play college or pro hockey, since playing in the Q forfeits his NCAA eligibility. Outen can petition to get eligibility back.

“He’s still working that out,” Howe said. “I think the hardest part is trying to get him eligible with his time in (the QMJHL), but I am not sure what path he will pursue. He has a lot of options on the table, he’s a terrific young man and a great goaltender. ”

There are 13 2000-born players who have exhausted their junior hockey eligibility and Howe expects most of the players who are eligible to return to do so. However, 2001-born Aidan Connolly (Sacred Heart) and 2002-born Patrick Schmiedlin (Colorado College) can move on to college hockey next year. And 2001-born forwards Tyler Gaulin (University of Maine) and Reese Farrell (Army) said when they committed they will move on to college during the 2022-23 season.

The organization will have a couple of weeks before the NAHL Entry Draft on July 14. The team already selected three players in the Supplemental Draft.

“We look forward to having a strong group returning and we have some young (Maine Nordiques) Academy guys coming up and other tenders,” Howe said. “We still have one draft left and you never know, there might be the next Stefan Owens at one of these (main or training) camps.”


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