The John Bapst High School hockey came close to making its first ever appearance in an Eastern Maine Class B hockey final last season. Defenseman Tyler Fadrigon’s power play slap shot from the point hit the post with a minute left and Gardiner hung on to post a 4-3 semifinal triumph over the Crusaders.
Bangor-based John Bapst finished up at 14-6-1.
The Crusaders are top-heavy with seniors this season and they have one thing on their minds: duplicating the football team’s state Class B championship.
And they are off to a 4-0 start that includes a 2-0 win over defending state B champion Winslow.
“We’ve been working for four years for this,” said senior center Andrew Casey.
“That [Gardiner] game is still in our heads. It was an awful way to go out,” said senior center Casey Hull. “It has definitely given us some incentive to try harder and be better this year.”
The two veterans feel this year’s team has potential to be better than last year’s.
“Our overall team defense is much better this year,” said Casey.
John Bapst has outscored its opponents 18-8.
“And we have a better work ethic both in practices and in games,” said Hull. “We’ve got more maturity. Getting to the semifinals gave us more experience. We know how to handle ourselves better and our adrenaline.”
Hull added that the Crusaders have an unselfish attitude.
“It doesn’t matter who scores the goals or gets the assists. It’s just about winning. It’s more about [employing] a team effort. We’ve definitely stepped it up this year,” Hull said.
Hull is off to a remarkable start. He has figured in 16 of the 18 goals with eight goals and eight assists to eclipse the 100-point mark in his career.
He is flanked on his all-senior line by left wing Travis Poulin (1 & 0) and right wing Mike Lalime (1 & 4).
Casey (0 & 1) centers the second line, another all-senior tandem, between Nicky Mitchell (1 & 0) and Ethan Sale (2 & 2). Another senior, Tyler Smith, centers the third line between Joe Pate (1 & 0) and Derek Antworth (no points).
Three seniors headline a formidable defense corps: Chase Huckestein (1 & 4), Tyler Fadrigon (2 & 1) and Matt Duplisea (0 & 1). Joe Thompson has also been a mainstay.
“They’ve been playing strong,” said head coach Gene Fadrigon.
Derek Duff, a junior, has been razor-sharp between the pipes.
“He has been phenomenal,” said Casey.
Fadrigon has replaced Aaron King, who moved to North Carolina. The 63-year-old Fadrigon, who led Old Town to back-to-back state B titles in 1992 and ’93, was elevated from assistant to head coach. Fadrigon is Tyler’s grandfather.
Fadrigon said his team is “focused” and has been “more disciplined” than a year ago.
Houlton-Hodgdon, which lost to Winslow in the semis, has gotten off to an 0-3-1 start but coach Joel Trickey has been playing eight sophomores and said his players “are still learning.”
They lost to Winslow 4-3 and Gardiner 5-3 along with Class A Bangor (4-1). They were tied by Presque Isle 3-3.
“We’ve had some bad luck. And we haven’t learned to play 45 minutes of hockey yet. When we do that, we should be pretty strong,” said Trickey.
Right wing Craig Buxton, last year’s leading scorer (20 & 12), is off to a fast start with three goals and three assists and Trickey has also received stellar play from defenseman Taylor Martin and Jake Peabody.
Perennial power Orono has won two straight after four losses and is looking to bounce back after a rare sub-par season. Two of the losses came to Gardiner and Winslow by 4-3 scores.
Coach Greg Hirsch said diminutive freshman goalie Andrew Kozerow has been a “real highlight” and he’s received consistently impressive performances from sniper Brandon Paul (8 goals) and defenseman Chad Evinger.
Gardiner and Winslow have both lost significant scoring punch but both will be contenders.
Gardiner’s Mike Hersom, Zoe Fisk and Kevin May are constant threats up front; Forrest Chadwick is an influential defenseman and Chris Howe is solid in net.
Winslow lost nine seniors but boasts a veteran and talented defense corps featuring Kevin Martin, Charlie Kriegal and Jeff Browne and two impressive goaltenders in Jesse Little and Ryan Cormier.
Hampden Academy, Old Town and Presque Isle are seeking improvement over last year.