BREWER, Maine — Tyler Friel of Brewer has always wanted to be a hockey goalie.
“When I was 4, I said to my dad, ‘Try to get it by me,’” said Friel. “He would get on the floor and shoot it.”
The 13-year-old has maintained that enthusiasm and now plays for the Maine Freeze Bantams’ Tier II team.
The Freeze handles the travel hockey teams for Zone 5, which covers the area from Newport north to Madawaska and east to Calais. Most of the players come from Greater Bangor, but occasionally a player will come from Houlton or Calais.
The Maine Freeze draws the bulk of its players from Bangor Youth Hockey, Brewer Youth Hockey and the Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference.
The Maine Amateur Hockey Association sought to concentrate the travel squads in the Squirt (ages 9-10), Peewee (11-12) and Bantam (13-14) levels during the winter and the Midget Minor (high school freshmen and sophomores) and Midget Major (juniors and seniors) in the fall before the start of the high school season.
“One kid may be skating around the ice scoring 50 or 60 goals, but it’s not making him a good player. Hockey is the ultimate team sport,” said Todd Cray, who is the chairman of Maine Freeze and one of its three Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference representatives. The Bangor and Brewer groups also have three representatives each.
“When the state decided we needed to combine the teams, there was a lot of resistance,” said Cray. “Many wanted to keep their own teams. I think we’ve won over a lot of people.”
Tier II is the top competitive level in the state. Tier III is the second level of travel play, and Tier IV is the house level.
“There are players in the state who could play at the Tier I level, but it would be hard to get enough for a team,” said Rich Powell of Bangor, coach of the Freeze’s Tier II Bantams.
The time commitment is bigger for the travel players compared with the house players. They start with two practices a week and are now up to three, plus a couple of games. The house level starts at one practice a week and is now up to two, plus their games.
The Freeze players find the extra time is well spent.
Drew Powell, Rich’s son, is in his fifth year as a Freeze player.
“I’ve grown a lot every year,” said the 13-year-old center. “All of my skills have improved.”
“Having three practices a week definitely helps,” said Jordan Dysart of Hampden. He’s a 14-year-old right wing who made the Freeze for the first time this year.
“It’s a very good accomplishment,” Dysart said.
Dysart is used to the hard work. He was one of the players on the Bronco Travel soccer team that won four straight state championships.
“I put in a lot of hours on that, too,” he said.
Friel also plays baseball, where he’s a catcher, and football.
“Football is the tough one [seasonwise],” said Friel. “Everything is going on every day.”
Sometimes he has both hockey and football practices the same day, but he doesn’t mind.
“It keeps me in shape,” he said. “It makes me quicker [on the ice and] quicker in net.”
Cray said that playing other sports is good.
“This is not a year-round thing,” he said. “We try to encourage them to play other sports, too.”
Rich Powell is in his fifth year as a coach, having started when an older son joined Bangor Youth Hockey.
“This [Tier II] is an exciting, wonderful level of program,” he said. “Even though it’s the highest skill level, you’re still doing a lot of teaching.”
This also can be a time of growth spurts, some kids getting them earlier than others.
Nathaniel Reese, a 13-year-old left wing/center from Veazie who is among the smaller players, doesn’t see it as being a major factor.
“You notice it only when a bigger kid hits you,” he said, smiling. “The advantage of being smaller is that you’re usually quicker than the big kids.”
The travel part of travel hockey is also fun for the players, who compete in tournaments in New Brunswick, Quebec and Vermont as well as facing off against other Maine teams.
“They get to travel a little bit and make friends that last a long time,” said Cray.
“I like traveling,” said Drew Powell. “It’s good to play other places.
“My parents don’t like it, but I do.”
The goal for most of the players is to play for their high school varsity teams. That can be a problem when the Bantam and high school seasons overlap because an agreement with the Maine Principals’ Association states that high school games take precedence. Sometimes that might leave a team a little short of players. There are 15 skaters and two goalies on each Tier II and Tier III team, and players can’t be added to fill the holes.
There is an advantage when the Freeze players get to high school.
“The [Freeze] program is very good. They get exposed to a high level of hockey,” said Denis Collins, the Bangor High coach who had been a Freeze coach for three years.
“For Bangor,” said Collins, “the seven freshmen I picked all played for the Freeze and six of them are playing regular lines.”
Friel plays middle school hockey in addition to his Freeze season.
“It’s a lot slower pace than this type of hockey,” he said. “I like it because I get a lot of ice time. It works for me.”
Friel just loves playing goalie.
“I always wanted to play goalie my whole life,” he said. “It’s fun. I always like the puck hitting me.”
His mother wasn’t completely sold on his being a goalie.
“She said she wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it at all,” said Friel.
It’s not an easy position, but Friel relishes the challenge.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it because the whole team relies on you,” said Friel.