The Presque Isle High School Wildcats were the talk of the town Wednesday after annexing the school’s first Eastern Maine Class B hockey championship in the program’s 19-year history.
“There were plenty of high-fives at school,” said sophomore goalie Josh MacFarline, who finished with 19 saves including several important third-period stops in the 11-7-3 Wildcats’ 5-2 win over Winslow Tuesday night.
MacFarline has made 66 saves on 72 shots in tournament wins over Houlton-Hodgdon (4-3 in overtime), John Bapst of Bangor (5-1) and Winslow.
The 5-foot-6 MacFarline, who turns 16 today, has been one of the reasons behind PI’s 7-1-1 stretch.
“He’s right up there among the No. 1 goalies in the league right now,” said PI junior defenseman Jason Martin. “His confidence is the big thing. He didn’t have much at the beginning of the year.”
“He has really stepped up,” said Wildcats coach Carl Flynn. “He beat Gardiner 4-2 nine games ago and has had the hot hand ever since.”
“That game gave me a boost of confidence that I’ve had the rest of the season,” said MacFarline.
“I’ve been staying calm. I haven’t been freaking myself out,” added MacFarline. “And my defense has done a great job blocking shots. That has helped me out a lot.”
MacFarline has concentrated on “coming out, staying square and staying up as long as possible,” because going down would leave too much room upstairs due to his size.
Then there is junior center Brennen Shaw, who has had two goals in each playoff game and has also had a pair of assists in the three games.
“I’ve been happy with my play in the playoffs. And I’ve been getting some lucky bounces,” said Shaw.
Shaw, who has 30 goals and 30 assists, grew up playing both basketball and hockey.
“But, in sixth grade, I realized I didn’t love basketball as much as I loved hockey,” said Shaw. “Hockey is my sport.”
“He never ceases to amaze me how he scores … the shots he pulls off,” said MacFarline.
“He’s quite the challenge when he comes down on you one-on-one in practice,” said Martin.
Flynn, a 41-year-old family doctor from St. John, New Brunswick, has orchestrated the success. He has been the head coach for four years and previously coached in the youth program.
“He’s a great coach. He’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Shaw.
“He spends a lot of time studying film and coming up with new ideas,” said Martin.
One example was a defensive strategy based on something Flynn observed in Winslow’s 3-0 win over Gardiner in the quarterfinals: Winslow’s defensemen all shot low.
So he made sure his defensemen opened their skate blades up to cover more space and he also had them angle their skate blades and sticks so that shots would deflect into the corners.
PI deflected several Winslow shots wide and that proved crucial when they killed off three penalties in the third period protecting a lead.
Flynn said it is a joy to implement ideas to a smart group of players because they pick it up so quickly.
Flynn and the players agreed that freshman right wing Isaac LaJoie’s highlight-reel goal that triggered a decisive three-goal spurt at the end of the second period turned the game around.
“That was a huge momentum-booster. If we had gone into the third period down 1-0, it would have been tough to come back because Winslow would have had the momentum,” said Shaw.
Presque Isle will face either Greely of Cumberland Center or Cape Elizabeth in Saturday’s state title game in Lewiston.