Houlton-Hodgdon High School’s 7-0 Black Hawks are off to the best start in the program’s hockey history dating back to the 1999-2000 season.
Looming on the horizon is a showdown with defending Eastern Maine Class B champion Brewer on Jan. 22 at Houlton’s Millar Arena.
Coach Joel Trickey and his players are obviously pleased with their start but they’re taking it in stride.
“It feels good but we all know there’s a lot more work to do,” said senior right wing Logan Holmes.
“We’re just now starting to come into a tough stretch of games,” said senior center and captain Ben Ward. “Those games will show us how good we are.”
Houlton-Hodgdon will be tested by Class A Bangor, Class B West leader Greely of Cumberland Center and EM Class B rivals Lawrence of Fairfield as well as John Bapst of Bangor before they entertain the Witches, who are currently 5-0-1.
But, so far, so good.
“I’m not really surprised. I knew we had a pretty good team,” said Trickey. “We’ve got a lot of seniors (eight) with a lot of experience.”
“We’ve worked hard and we play together,” said Ward. “Our goal this year is to give Brewer a run for the money.”
“We play well as a team. We don’t play as individuals,” said Holmes. “Having eight seniors helps a lot.”
Holmes also said they have a healthy team chemistry.
“We all get along real well, on and off the ice,” he said.
The Black Hawks are quick and tenacious on the puck. They have outscored their opponents 43-7.
They have two all-senior lines and a young third line that also plays a regular shift.
“Having three lines helps a lot. It (pays off) in the third period,” said Holmes referring to the fact they wear teams out with their depth.
“We move the puck a lot better than we have in the past,” said Ward.
Trickey, in his ninth season with the program, said, “We usually outskate the other team. This team takes better care of the puck than any team I’ve ever coached. We keep the puck in the offensive zone longer than any team I’ve ever had.”
“We have a great forecheck although we haven’t been tested that much on the backcheck,” said Holmes.
Trickey was concerned about his defense corps and the fact he has just one senior, Kam Lincoln, on the blue line.
“But our defense has been surprisingly solid,” said Trickey who praised the performances turned in by sophomores Jimmy Fitzpatrick and Brandon Ward, who are playing regular shifts for the first time.
“They have done a good job,” said Trickey.
Ward is the younger brother of Ben Ward.
The Houlton-Hodgdon coach said the forwards have done an exceptional job back-checking.
“We insist on all five skaters playing defense. The forwards are committed to coming back in the defensive end and helping out,” said Trickey.
“We try to help the defense out as much as we can,” said Ben Ward, who is the team’s leading scorer with seven goals and 12 assists.
He was a first team All-Eastern Maine Class B selection a year ago.
He is flanked by left wing Cody Briggs (6 & 6) and right wing Holmes (5 & 7). Ward and Briggs have been linemates in previous seasons.
The second line features Nick Chase (6 & 3) between Dylan Gard (4 & 2) and Ian Gervais (2 & 3).
Junior Sam Fitzpatrick (2 & 1) centers the third line between sophomore left wing Parker Sanderson (2 & 6) and junior right wing Jordan Russell (1 & 3).
Ward said their experience and familiarity has resulted in cohesive play.
“And everybody is usually focused,” said Holmes.
Lincoln (3 & 3) anchors the defense corps along with last season’s All-EM Class B Rookie team selection Jordan Brown (2 & 3).
Brandon Ward (1 & 2) and Jimmy Fitzpatrick (0 & 1) have evolved into dependable defensive-minded defensemen.
Senior Malik Abouleish has allowed an average of just one goal per game in six games. Backup Avery Kibler beat John Bapst 3-1.
“Malik has been playing a lot better this year,” said Ward.
“He has been real strong,” Holmes added.
Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn and two of his veteran standouts, senior goalie Josh MacFarline and junior center Isaac LaJoie, said the Jan. 22 game between Houlton-Hodgdon game and Brewer should be a gem. Presque Isle has lost to both teams.
“They play totally different styles,” said Flynn. “They both have speed. Houlton-Hodgdon is a little more disorganized. They’re like a bunch of hornets coming out of their nests. You don’t know where they’re going. Brewer is very organized. It should be a good game. Houlton-Hodgdon is a little more tenacious and a little tougher. Brewer is more polished.”
“Both are real good teams. It’ll probably come down to goaltending,” said MacFarline.
“It should be a great game,” said LaJoie. “Their speed complements each other. Neither team is that big. They play a simple style. They like to chase the puck and they’re both aggressive.”
Houlton-Hodgdon hosts 4-2 Bangor on Saturday at noon.