As usual, the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer was frigid.
There were two small ceiling fans that were rotating at each end of the rink.
When asked the purpose of the fans, a rink attendant said they were supposed to be moving the air around.
A tiny grin spread across his face.
Grins have been plentiful at PIA.
The Brewer High School Witches have gone 106-18-5 over their last 129 games; they have claimed two state Class B championships and are 15-0-1 this season.
They have transformed their high school into a hockey school.
“We do really take a lot of pride in hockey,” said senior center Evan Nadeau. “In other sports, (the players) don’t get as much respect. The people support us a lot and it helps out to have friends and students looking up to your team and saying, ‘Nice game last night,’ instead of just looking past us. We gain a lot of respect at school.”
“It makes you excited to go out and play,” said senior right wing Lucas Lamond.
The running joke about PIA is that fans like to go outside between periods to warm up.
Nadeau said, “It is what it is. It’s one of the biggest advantages we have. (Opposing teams) aren’t used to the cold.”
There are several other reasons behind the program’s success.
Speed is one of them. Everybody can skate and they use that speed to attack the opponent and limit their time and space with the puck.
Second-year coach Dave Shedd said he began coaching most of these players when they were 6 or 7 in the Brewer travel hockey program and insists his players play high-pressure, up-tempo hockey.
“One of his big things is skating and conditioning,” said Lamond. “He has always pushed us hard. He tells us our legs and lungs beat people in the third period and the third period has always been our (best) period.”
Brewer scored four third-period goals to beat Class A Waterville 6-2 in Waterville in December.
Shedd said they keep things simple in practice. They have 16 different drills that involve constant movement.
“It all starts with skating,” said Shedd. “It’s a lot of hard work, determination and focus.”
Senior defenseman Jake Valley said the skating emphasis began in travel hockey.
“We had to skate well to play (competitively) against the teams we faced in travel hockey,” said Valley.
Then there is familiarity.
“We’ve played with each other for so long, it has made things a lot easier,” said junior right wing Tyler White.
The Witches also have depth that very few Class B teams have.
Shedd will play a third line and they will produce some quality minutes while also giving the top two lines a breather.
That contributes to their strong third periods.
Brewer would be a serious contender in EM Class A where Lewiston is the clear-cut favorite.
Brewer is one of the few teams that can skate with the Blue Devils but Lewiston has much more experience in goal with senior Cam Poussard (0.73 goals-against average) and that would prove decisive.
But it would be an interesting game.
Brewer has had a couple of hiccups: overtime wins over John Bapst of Bangor and Hampden Academy.
But they made a statement on Saturday when they dispatched their primary challenger, Houlton-Hodgdon, 7-1.
“Our kids loving playing in big games,” said Shedd, whose Witches play Bangor at Alfond Arena in Orono on Thursday night. “We didn’t want to give (Houlton-Hodgdon) any hope (they could beat us).”