The Presque Isle High School Wildcats have been the upset mavericks of Eastern Maine Class B hockey in recent years.
Two years ago, they shocked a 17-2-1 Orono High School team 4-2 in the semifinals. Last Saturday, they stunned 16-2 John Bapst 5-1 in the semis.
Now the fourth-seeded Wildcats, 10-7-3, will look for their first Eastern Maine Class B crown when they take on defending state champion Winslow tonight at 7 at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena in Orono.
Winslow, 10-8-1 and the third seed, has won 11 state B championships.
“The Bapst win has given us a lot of confidence,” said Presque Isle senior center Dylan Collins.
Wildcats coach Dr. Carl Flynn hopes that confidence and the bitter taste left in their mouths from an 8-0 shellacking at the hands of Brewer in the 2007 EM B final will serve them well.
“They remember the good feeling after the Orono win and the bad feeling against Brewer and that should help us immensely,” said Flynn.
“No doubt about that,” concurred junior center Brennen Shaw. “Winslow may not be as good as that Brewer team but we still need to prove ourselves.”
“We have much more experience this year,” said Flynn, who admits he uses the regular season to prepare his team for the playoffs.
They know they will have their hands full against a Winslow team that upset Gardiner 3-0 in the semifinals and has a 6-4 road win and 6-6 home tie against the Wildcats this season.
“We’re going to have to get by a tough defense and [goalie Jesse] Little,” explained Shaw.
“Winslow has a great club,” said Collins. “They have an awesome goalie. We need to get a quick goal. Gardiner wasn’t able to drop one in on him.”
Collins doesn’t envision a shootout like their first two games.
“It’ll be real close, like 3-2 or 2-1,” predicted Collins.
“We’ve got to get a lot of shots,” said PI junior defenseman Steve Ford, who thinks his team is playing its best hockey of the season.
Presque Isle’s attack has been led by Shaw (28 goals, 29 assists), Collins (10 & 18) and junior left wing Mitch Davis (13 & 18) along with defensemen Jason Martin (5 & 12) and Ford (6 & 10).
Shaw is flanked by Davis and freshman right wing Isaac LaJoie (9 & 12) while Collins is sandwiched by junior right wing Zac Campbell (4 & 10) and senior left wing Josh Buck (8 & 12).
The third line features Mark Carvell (4 & 3) between Caleb Buck (0 & 2) and Connor Shaw (3 & 4). The fourth line is composed of Evan Waddell, Cody Merrill and Derek Sczuroski.
Martin and Ford are joined on defense by Mitchell Sperrey (1 & 6) and Jacob Buck (1 & 2), who is Caleb’s twin brother and Josh’s younger brother.
Collins said the “most valuable player” of the playoffs has been sophomore goalie Josh MacFarline, who has stopped 47 of 51 shots in playoff wins over Houlton-Hodgdon (4-3 in overtime) and John Bapst.
Collins and Brennen Shaw have eclipsed the 100-point mark for their careers, but the Wildcats have received playoff goals from four other players besides Collins and Shaw.
Shaw has four goals and an assist in the two wins. Collins has one goal along with LaJoie, Campbell, Carvell and Ford.
“We have a lot of depth,” said Shaw.
Corey Lessard’s Black Raiders have been led by Jordan Grant, Todd Brow and Devon Guptil along with Dan Clark, Charlie Kriegal and Little. Grant had two goals against Gardiner and Little made 26 saves.
In the Eastern Maine Class A final at the Colisee in Lewiston, top seed Waterville (19-1) faces third seed Lewiston (13-6-1) at 6.