LEWISTON, Maine — Nick Risser’s senior year of high school sports at Brewer High School couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start.
But after being part of a state championship hockey team for the second time in four years, right now it couldn’t be any better.
Risser, a senior three-sport athlete for the Witches, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a preseason football scrimmage last August.
That forced him to miss football due to injury for the second straight year, following a torn meniscus in the same knee in 2008.
Surgery last fall likely would have meant the end of his high school hockey career, too, given the several months of recovery time required in its aftermath.
So after consulting with his doctor, Risser opted to hold off surgery, brace up the knee, and get ready for hockey.
“I worked for about two months just trying to strengthen it up because I knew I was going to put surgery off because I wanted to play,” said Risser, who had 14 goals and 10 assists as a junior while helping Brewer to a 15-4-1 record and a berth in the Eastern Maine Class A semifinals.
“So when hockey season came around I was able to start right out with the team.”
Risser never missed a beat this winter. The right wing led the high-powered Witches in scoring with 27 goals and 24 assists in 21 games, including a power-play goal in the third period Saturday afternoon that capped off Brewer’s 3-1 victory over York in the Class B state final at the Colisee.
“They were a very good team, “ said Risser of York. “We just knew we had to come out and give everything we’ve got.”
A four-year varsity hockey player who also saw regular duty on the Witches’ 2007 state championship team, Risser served as a team captain this winter along with senior defenseman Chris Lopez and junior forward Evan Nadeau. That trio led coach David Shedd’s club to a 19-1-1 record.
“This year’s been more than anything I could ever ask for,” Risser said. “The team is great and I love every single one of these guys. It’s been really special.”
Risser said he may delay ACL surgery a little longer, long enough to compete in one final season of high school sports.
“I might try to run track and see how that goes,” he said, “and then have surgery after school’s over.”
White’s time to shine
Eric White was a little-used freshman goalie on Brewer’s 2007 Class B state championship hockey team.
“I think I started one game,” he said.
Now a bearded veteran with three years of starting experience behind him, White came up biggest in the Witches’ biggest game since then, as his 24 saves against York on Saturday helped Brewer secure its second state title in four years.
“I thought White played a great game,” said York coach Michael Vessey. “We had some opportunities and all season long we’ve been burying them, but we didn’t today and that sort of hurt even though the kids never gave up.”
White was especially stout in the first period, using a glove hand that also has served him well defensively throughout a stellar high school and American Legion baseball career to frustrate a fast- starting York offense.
“We hadn’t really been tested so much with a team pressuring us for an entire [first] period like that this year,” said White.
White’s biggest save came midway through the period when a puck deflected off a Brewer defender in the goal crease right to York’s David Figlioli, whose attempted tip-in was caught by the senior goalie just before it would have crossed the goal line.
As the play stopped, several of the York players and many of the Wildcats’ fans thought a goal had been scored.
The Witches knew better.
“Eric probably played the best period of his life,” said Lopez. “That glove save on the goal line with the kid coming across, I don’t know how he did it. He’s just so good.”
White finished the opening 15 minutes of play with nine saves, and while York did score once early in the second period, the Wildcats were unable to duplicate their early offensive intensity as the game continued.
“Eric’s just phenomenal, the heart and soul of our team,” said Risser. “He keeps us in all the games, and really gives us momentum when we need it. He makes all the big saves.”