Maine Nordiques’ Zion Green takes the puck up the ice as Northeast Generals’ Tyler DesRochers speeds up to the action from the left during a Nov. 23 game at The Colisee in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The Maine Nordiques are hope their play in the final two months of the regular season will carry over to the 2022-23 junior hockey season.

The Nordiques, in their third NAHL season, were longshots to make the playoffs, but they stayed motivated and continued to work hard.

“To embrace the dog days (of the season), it really helped the (players) excel,” Nordiques coach Matt Pinchevsky said. “I kept hearing from Division I college coaches and even some pro guys, ‘It’s amazing how hard your team is still working.’ They understand how long these seasons are and understand how grueling (60 games) can be, how much work, time and effort is put in, and how much adversity has to be overcome.

“Our guys weren’t afraid of the actions necessary to overcome that adversity; they get to see consistent results and positive results for the team.”

During that two-month stretch, Maine went 10-6-6 (wins, regulation losses, overtime/shootout losses).

The Nordiques finished the season 22-27-11 (55 points) and ranked sixth in the seven-team East Division. Pinchevsky, who had been the associate head coach, took over as the team’s head coach after Nolan Howe was relieved of the role following a 6-9-1 start to the 2021-22 season. Maine went 16-18-10 under Pinchevsky.

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Maine Nordiques general manager Eric Soltys credits Pinchevsky for motivating the players to continue to play hard.

“Our best hockey was down the road, the last eight weeks of the season, when it would have been really easy to pack it in and just go through the motions,” Soltys said. “The kids really showed up, played for the jersey, and showed a lot of pride to play for the Maine Nordiques.

“I think with a core group of guys we have coming back next season, that was a big thing for me to see as a GM. The kids who can return next year have some character, and they have some moxie, a desire to be here and pride to play for the crest on the front of the jersey.”

However, the Nordiques also need to replace some key players.

Pinchevsky said that goalie Avery Sturtz, in particular, stepped up his game in the final two months.

“This year, to come in and claim the net as his own, and Gus (Holt) as his partner, I think it’s one of those things, (Avery) was our rock — with the success we generated towards that latter-half of the season, or at least in the final two months,” Pinchevsky said. “It really shined through in his game with some of the schools that have been looking at him and talking to him now.”

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Sturtz finished the year with a 16-17-5 record, a 3.63 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in his final season of junior hockey.

Another pleasant surprise, Pinchevsky said, were the points put up by Ignat Belov in his final year of junior hockey. The Belarus native scored 21 goals and recorded 23 assists in 59 games, a significant improvement from the four goals and four assists he had in 32 games in 2020-21.

Maine Nordiques forward Reese Farrell, right, tries to center the puck from behind the net against the Maryland Black Bears on March 25 at The Colisee in Lewiston. Maryland’s Trayce Johnson blocked the puck with his skate. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Aidan Connolly led the team in points with 21 goals and 30 assists in 42 games, despite missing a third of the season due to injury. He will be playing at Sacred Heart in the fall.

Other forwards aging out of junior hockey include Reese Farrell (who will play at Army), Tyler Gaulin (Mercyhurst University), Theo Thrun (Western Michigan), Tristian Fasig and Caden Pattison.

Pinchevsky and the Nordiques are excited about the players who will join the Nordiques next season.

Pinchevsky said he is excited about the addition of tender signee Dominic Murphy, a forward who tallied 13 goals and 40 assists in 28 games to lead St. Mark’s School (Southborough, Massachusetts). Murphy played with Nordiques forward Brendan Gibbons at St. Mark’s.

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Another forward, Laurent Trepanier, an affiliate player, might earn a full-time roster player next season. He had 21 goals and 30 assists in 57 games with the Seacoast Performance Academy 17U team and appeared in four games with the Nordiques this season.

Defense was a question mark for the Nordiques this past season after all but one of their defensemen from the 2020-21 team’s run to the Robertson Cup semifinals either aged out of junior hockey or didn’t return.

Matt Connor is the lone defenseman who returned and played the entire 2021-22 season for the Nordiques.

But there were bright spots for this year’s team on that end of the ice.

Pinchevsky said he was impressed with first-year defenseman Nicholas Bernardo (six goals, 31 assists, 59 games). The Brown University commit for the 2023-24 season is expected to return to the Nordiques next year.

“Nick Bernardo produced as many points as forwards on our team as a defenseman,” Pinchevsky said. “Coming in as a first-year junior player fresh out of (Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire), I was really happy how he adjusted. … He will continue to grow and lead (the team), moving forward.”

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The Nordiques should return an experienced defense next year, as Connor and Jacob Pellerin (University of New England) are the only defensemen aging out of junior hockey. Among those are a pair of tender signees who played in a handful of games for Maine this season.

Affiliate defenseman Seth Murch (Seacoast Performance Academy 17U), who appeared in nine games with the Nordiques, has signed a tender contract for next season. As had David Helledy (New Hampton School in New Hampshire), who appeared in seven games after the conclusion of his season with New Hampton School in New Hampshire. Pinchevsky said he was pleased with Helledy’s hockey IQ during those games.

Since the Tier II NAHL is a developmental league for colleges and for the USHL, some younger Nordiques players might have a chance to move up to Tier I this offseason. Among those is forward Zion Green, a potential pick in the USHL Entry Draft on May 3. The 18-year-old Northern Michigan University recruit for 2023-24 was the Nordiques’ second-leading scorer with 15 goals and 32 assists in 55 games.

Soltys said the Nordiques won’t discourage or stand in the way of any of their players who have an opportunity to join a USHL team. In fact, it’s part of the organization’s objective.

“When we see guys move onto the USHL, like Luke Antonacci (this season), we are doing our job,” Soltys said. “That’s what the (NAHL) is all about. … If we can move every kid to the next level and do it the right way — and I know to (owner Darryl Antonacci), that means a lot more than just winning hockey games. It shows a lot about the program; it shows why a lot of kids want to come to our program. It shows we don’t try to stand in the way of the kids who have earned that right to (move up) to the next level. It will be really easy to tell the USHL team, ‘Nah, we will keep him.’ But if that boy is ready to go and we feel he’s in a good situation with the team he’s going to, we are helping pack and promoting him.”

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