First-year Bangor High School hockey coach Denis Collins wanted to shore up his defense corps.
Senior Adam King was the only defenseman with a significant amount of varsity experience.
So he moved junior Nic Cota from forward back to defense before the Jan. 17 road game against St. Dominic’s of Auburn. It has paid dividends for the Rams, who are 10-8 and have a Tuesday date with Gray-New Gloucester/Poland in the Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinals at Auburn’s Ingersoll Arena.
Bangor is the sixth seed while Gray-New Gloucester/Poland is 13-4-1 and the No. 3 seed.
“It has made a big difference,” said King, one of the Ram co-captains. “He has a lot of poise. We’ve got young defensemen, so his leadership really helps.”
Cota said he hasn’t played defense since the first season of travel peewees (ages 11-12).
“But I’ve loved it so far. It seems like a good move by coach (Collins),” said Cota. “I think it’s helped the team a lot and, hopefully, other people notice that. We have a little bit more experience on defense now.”
Collins added, “A lot of the Class A coaches have told me it was the best move we’ve made. He has stabilized our defense quite a bit.”
Collins explained that he needed a defenseman who could “carry the puck out of the defensive zone” and trigger their attack in the neutral zone.
“The style we play forces a lot of open ice, and now we have defensemen who can win one-on-one battles (for the puck) and carry the puck out of the zone,” explained Collins.
“It has really strengthened our defense. We’re a lot deeper on the defensive side of things,” said Bangor senior winger and co-captain Phil Frost.
The ironic twist is that Cota had been struggling offensively at forward, but since his move to defense, he has been putting up more points.
“I’m pretty happy with that,” he said.
Cota said defense fits his style.
“I have more time with the puck, and I can see the ice better back there,” said Cota.
Cota is the second-leading scorer for the Rams with 19 points on six goals and 13 assists.
Bangor is entering the playoffs with three wins in its last four games and a strong showing in a season-ending, 7-4 loss to undefeated defending Class B champ Brewer.
Frost is the team’s leading scorer with 15 goals and 8 assists, and the Rams have 10 players with at least 10 points.
“We’re starting to jell,” said Collins.
“We feel really confident going into the playoffs. We’ve had some good practices,” said King. “We’ve definitely improved. You can see it from every player in the locker room.”
Cota added, “This is when we want to peak. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got all eight pistons going.”
Zach Papsadora is Bangor’s No. 3 scorer with 9 & 8 followed by Connor Griffin and Hungarian exchange student Adam Toth-Javor, who have 8 & 6 apiece.
The other Rams with 10 or more points are Zeb Tuell (4 & 9), Tom Bearor (5 & 7), King (4 & 7) and Tyler Shanklin (5 & 5). Goalie Chris Howat is 6-8 with a 3.93 goals-against average and a .870 save percentage.
Arnold Kolby (18 & 17), Ryan Davala (16 & 8) and Adam Healy (11 & 8) have paced Gray-New Gloucester/Poland along with Evan Baggs (8 & 6), defenseman Sam Mayer (4 & 11) and goalie Matt Ouellette (12-3-1, 2.40, .910 save percentage).
In the other quarterfinals, No. 7 Brunswick (8-9-1) will travel to play No. 2 St. Dominic’s (12-4-2) and No. 4 Waterville (8-9-1) will host No. 5 Maranacook/Hall-Dale/Winthrop (11-6-1). Top seed Lewiston, 15-1-2, received a bye.