Orono High School hockey coach Greg Hirsch, who is in his 16th season behind the bench, said Brewer is the clear-cut favorite to defend its Eastern Maine Class B championship. The Witches went on to win the state title.
He points to Houlton-Hodgdon as being the primary threat with Lawrence of Fairfield also in the hunt.
“Houlton-Hodgdon has an outstanding senior goalie in (Malik) Abouleish. And they’re big, strong and fast,” said Hirsch.
Presque Isle High School coach Carl Flynn concurred.
“They’re fast and tenacious,” said Flynn, whose team lost to the Blackhawks 8-1. “They don’t lack energy. They buzz around in your zone nonstop. They returned their top two lines, and they have a pretty good defense corps.”
The Blackhawks are off to a 4-0 start, outscoring their opponents 25-4.
“This team has the potential to be my best. We have eight seniors,” said ninth-year coach Joel Trickey. “We have two really good (all-senior) lines and our third line has already scored three goals. Our forwards are as good as we’ve ever had when it comes to cycling thepuck and controlling it in the offensive zone.”
Left wing Ben Ward had more than 30 points a year ago and already has four goals and nine assists. The All-Eastern Maine Class B first team selection is joined on a line by third-team selection Cody Briggs (4 & 2) and center Logan Holmes (2 & 3).
The second line consists of Nick Chase (3 & 2) between Dylan Gard (3 & 1) and Ian Gervais (0 & 2).
The third line features juniors Sam Fitzpatrick (1 & 1) and Jordan Russell (1 & 2) and sophomore Parker Sanderson (1 & 4).
Kam Lincoln (1 & 3) anchors the defense corps and is the only senior. Jordan Brown (1 & 1), an All-Eastern Maine rookie team pick a year ago, and Brandon Ward (1 & 1), Ben’s brother, supply stability along the blue line along with sophomore Jimmy Fitzpatrick.
Abouleish is an exceptional four-year starter in goal.
“It’s hard to say if anyone can bump off Brewer, but we feel we have as good a chance as anyone,” said Trickey.
Flynn considers Lawrence a “legitimate” third seed. Dave Richard’s Bulldogs are in their second season in Class B after playing in Class A.
“They have a bunch of football players who are fantastic athletes,” said Hirsch. “They’re very strong and they can outmuscle you.”
Talented Bulldog captain Devan Belanger is considered by Hirsch to be “one of the best players in the league.”
The Bulldogs also have an All-EM third-team defenseman in Matt Woodbury and a seasoned goaltender in Brad MacKenzie.
Christian Carpenter, Robert Banks, Connor Walsh, Tyler Boudreau and Jared Grenier are among a strong supporting cast.
Hirsch and Flynn both said the fourth and fifth playoff spots are up for grabs.
Hirsch said his Riots are young and improving.
Goalie Mike Brown was an All-Rookie team selection last year, and he has four sophomore defensemen in Zach Williams, Conor McKaig, Andrew Holt and Old Town transfer Corey Danielson.
Hirsch has a veteran and productive first line featuring Tannar Francis between Brewster Cherkis and Danny Perry. Speedy second line center Matt Cloutier was an All-Rookie selection.
Presque Isle, 15-5 and the EM B runner-up after winning the regional crown two years ago, is also young but has some quality returnees in all three positions.
Connor Shaw (17 & 15 a year ago) and Isaac Lajoie (6 & 17) are top-notch forwards along with All-Rookie team pick Adam Flynn, Carl’s son. Shaw and Lajoie will each center a line. Right wings Caleb Buck and Cody Merrill have a lot of experience.
Seniors Jacob Buck and Jordan Hallett are solid blue-liners who will be joined by three freshmen. Dependable senior Josh MacFarline, an All-EM second-team choice, has been a workhorse between the pipes.
Old Town is trying to continue its progression and coach Brett Hale has shored up his defense corps by moving sophomore forward Trevor Francis back to defense, where he has been paired with steady senior Zach Madden.
Prolific first-line center and All-EM third-teamer Cody Cross is considered by Hirsch to be one of the league’s best players, and he has first-rate linemates in Alex Leithiser and David Wilcox. Nate Colannino inherited the goaltending job from Patrick Spaulding, who transferred to Brewer.
Hampden Academy has one of the league’s most dynamic forwards in junior Cooper Williams and he has two gifted linemates in Kalvin Costa Vogel and Marc Albert. Sophomore Cooper Antone is another threat up front, and Charlie Rawcliffe headlines the defense corps in front of senior goalie Jacob Ward.
John Bapst continues its rebuilding under second-year coach Greg Stone. The Crusaders feature forwards Joey Pate, Nick Doucette, Jake Leonard and Maggie Lynn along with defenseman Matt Youngblood. Jaron Leonard and Carl Rydell have taken over for departed first-team goalie Derek Duff.
Winslow is also youthful in net but has a group of talented skaters like Justin Bouchard, Eric Willette and Dalton Thompson.