Houlton/Hodgdon hockey coach Joel Trickey knew the 2011-2012 season was going to be challenging.
He lost 11 players off last year’s 16-4 team that reached the Eastern Maine Class B championship game.
Every position lost key personnel.
Each of the six players on his top two lines left. They accounted for 75 goals and 87 assists.
His defense corps was depleted, including All-Eastern Maine second-team pick Kam Lincoln, and workhorse first-team All-EM Class B goalie Malik Abouleish graduated.
Trickey, who is in his 11th season behind the Houlton/Hodgdon bench, said he has never had a team as inexperienced as this one.
Not surprisingly, the Black Hawks got off to an 0-5 start before claiming their first win last Saturday, 11-3 over Winslow.
Trickey and his players are upbeat over the progress being made by the team, which returned just three players with significant varsity experience.
“The players are coming along,” said Trickey. “They have made giant strides from where they were at the start of the season. They’re starting to realize how much more disciplined they have to be to play in high school.”
“It’s a big step from Bantams to high school hockey,” acknowledged junior right wing Brandon Ward, one of the three veterans with extensive experience along with cousins Jimmy Fitzpatrick and Sam Fitzpatrick.
One of the reasons for their development, according to Trickey, is their work ethic and coachability.
He said this is one of the hardest-working teams he has ever coached.
“I’ve never had a team that wanted to learn as much as these kids do,” said Trickey. “When you talk to them, they soak it in. They work hard at doing whatever we ask them to.”
“Everybody pays attention and works hard every day,” concurred Ward. “It’s been fun.”
Junior defenseman Jimmy Fitzpatrick said he has been surprised by the intense desire of the young players.
He thought they would be content learning the systems.
“But they really want to win,” said Jimmy Fitzpatrick, who has found that desire refreshing.
He also said there is better team chemistry this season than a year ago.
Trickey, Ward and Jimmy Fitzpatrick said another vital ingredient in their development has been the return to the area of Dave Mumford, a power-skating coach who had been away from the area “eight to 10 years” according to Trickey.
“That has helped immensely,” said Trickey.
Mumford works with the team once a week for 30-40 minutes.
“The young kids have really started to get the hang of (power) skating,” said Jimmy Fitzpatrick.
“Our skating has improved a lot,” said Ward.
One of the most influential newcomers has been freshman goalie Payton Porter.
“He has really stepped up for us,” said Ward.
“We were looking for a goalie who would be able to make the first save and he has been able to do that for the most part,” said Trickey. “He’s very focused.”
Porter is backed up by junior Hugh Farrar and sophomore Chase Brewer.
Trickey has tried to make life easier for his goalies by implementing a “fairly simple defensive scheme in front of our net.”
After allowing 32 goals in their first four games, Houlton/Hodgdon has allowed only eight in it last two games.
Jimmy Fitzpatrick headlines the defense corps with senior Josh Bragan, who left the team for personal reasons a year ago.
Cole McLaughlin, a junior who missed his freshman year with a broken leg, also mans the blue line along with fellow junior D.J. McGary. Both were used sparingly a year ago.
Junior Alaina Stewart also gets time on defense. She is on the team for the first time.
Ward, a converted defenseman, plays on the top line with senior Sam Fitzpatrick and sophomore Brandon Malone, who was sidelined last year with a leg injury sustained playing basketball.
“Brandon Malone has made giant strides,” said Trickey.
Sophomores Lucas Grant and Gage Hunt and junior Eugene Ivey make up the second line with sophomores Alex Casillas and Ethan Nickerson and junior Alex Donovan comprising the third line. Nickerson and Hunt had been defensemen until this season.
Promising Cam Clark will see duty up front, also. Lucas Peabody can play both forward or defense, Seth Hannigan and Jessi Tracy are forwards and Rachel Harmon is a defenseman.
Clark, Peabody, Hannigan, Tracy and Harmon are all freshmen.
“Every practice, we jell a little bit better,” said Jimmy Fitzpatrick. “The hard work is paying off.”
“And by working hard and improving every day, that enables us to try more things,” said Ward.
The Black Hawks return to action Thursday against Orono.