AUBURN — Excitement was in the air Monday afternoon at Norway Savings Bank Arena as area girls high school hockey teams hit the ice for the first practice of the preseason.

Players and coaches are mainly excited for two things after last year’s shortened pandemic season that only allowed 12 games to be played compared to the normal 18 regular-season games: playing in front of fans and the return of the playoffs.

“We are really hoping to have more people (attend the games) and just more energy from the crowd,” St. Dominic Academy senior Emma Roy said. “We really missed that last year, and (fans) watching the games online and not having that many fans wasn’t the same.”

Building capacity restrictions set by the state of Maine made it difficult for schools to allow fans in the arenas. Being quiet in an empty arena was different for mostly everyone.

The fans provide the energy for the players.

“It wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be, but it’s so much better having your fans there, cheering you on,” Lewiston senior Charlotte Cloutier said. “(The fans) provide that adrenaline rush because you want to prove yourself to them; you want to make them happy and show them what you got.”

Lewiston coach Ron Dumont, whose team was practicing across the river on Monday, didn’t feel a difference in coaching with no fans but understands what it means for the players to have the stands filled.

“For me, (having no fans) didn’t change anything, it’s a non-entity,” Dumont said. “For the kids, it is and the fans are very important. We do love having fans, they are great for the kids and they are in high school, that’s the time of your life. Moms, dads, friends, relatives and grandparents can come to the games. It’s family-oriented and you didn’t have that last year.”

Paul Gosselin, the St. Dom’s/Gray-New Gloucester/Monmouth/Winthrop coach, said the fans were that missing piece last season.

Edward Little/Leavitt/Poland Red Hornets senior forward Caroline Audette said it was strange to not see her parents in the stands last year.

“It was difficult to play in front of no fans, especially my parents who have been to my games since I was five; they couldn’t even be there, (they had to stream the games),” Audette said. “It felt like we were playing for our coaches and teammates, which was nice, but at the same time it’s good to have people cheering you on.”

Gosselin felt the games didn’t have the same meaning with no postseason to play for.

“It felt like (the games) were scrimmages, it did not have that intensity that games usually bring,” Gosselin said. “The fans added a lot to that intensity I think; that was lacking last year. Even though we got to play, it felt like more of a scrimmage than a game.”

The coaches are also looking forward to having a full three months to work with the girls compared to the month-and-a-half they had with their teams last season.

The Red Hornets saw firsthand during the summer scrimmages what it was like to play in front of fans again.

“I think we had several girls (last season) said how eerie it was to hear only the skate blades,” Red Hornets coach Dana Berube said. “To me, it kind of reminded me as a kid when we had early morning practices. We had one scrimmage this summer and it was incredible how many fans we had.”

Lewiston senior defenseman Lilly Gish is most excited to have a postseason.

“Obviously, we didn’t have playoffs last year. I think it will be fun and (we’ll) show up to see what will happen with that,” Gish said.

The Blue Devils were the 2020 state champions and are looking forward to defending that state championship. Senior forward Leah Landry believes the team still carries the championship swagger, since they were the last team to lift the trophy.

“I think we still carry (the swagger),” Landry said. “Last year, there were no playoffs so it’s hard to say exactly what was going to happen. ”

The Red Hornets reached the regional final in 2020, losing to the Blue Devils 5-0. Audette likes that the games mean something again this season.

“This year, we definitely have to work hard to win every game,” Audette said. “If we want to make it to playoffs and have a successful year, we have to win games.”


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