BREWER, Maine — The Maine Freeze Tier III Bantams have been overwhelming their youth hockey competition this season and show no signs of easing up as they hit the second half of their league schedule.
“They’re big, fast and strong,” said Russ Richards, who is in his first season as an assistant coach. He was a head coach for 10 years before this season.
“They have no fear. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Richards of the Bantams. “They completely take over a game.”
Before the season, the Bantams (ages 13-14) were split into two teams based on skill level, Tier II (highest team level in Maine) and Tier III.
The Tier III players believe they are displaying a skill level close to that of the Tier II squad, and their Tier III opponents are feeling it, too.
“I expected to be competitive,” said 14-year-old Brennan Lane of Bangor, “but I didn’t expect to be this good.”
Jacob Gauvin, 14, of Bucksport realized early on it could be a good year.
“That first game we won, the celebration we had, I knew we were going to have a good season,” said Gauvin.
“We beat Casco Bay in our first league game,” said Richards. “That’s a team we never beat because they have so many players to draw from.”
The Freeze, which represents Zone 5 (centered in Greater Bangor, but drawing from Newport north and east) of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, is 8-1-1 in 10 league games against Casco Bay, which represents Zone 2 (Portland area), the Southern Maine Lightning from Zone 1 (Gorham, Biddeford, Saco and south) and the Maine Hurricanes from Zone 4 (Brunswick-Bath area).
The Freeze also play nonleague games for variety and to get extra work.
The Freeze won tournaments at Jay Peak, Vt., Thanksgiving weekend and the Lancaster Subway Series tournament in Saint John, New Brunswick, the following weekend.
The Bantams have been playing strong all year.
“We’ve scored 55 goals [in league play] and given up, I think, 11 [actually, 12],” said Richards. The next closest team, Casco Bay, has scored 21 goals in nine games and given up 24, posting a 5-2-2 mark.
The Freeze has done it without having a player dominate the scoring or possession of the puck, said Richards.
“This year is very special,” said Richards. “One thing I’ve noticed is there are no superstars. They’re all very talented and all very smart.”
That’s a result of the coaching staff’s philosophy and the players’ willingness to accept it.
“We teach ’em [to] make a play,” said Richards. It could be a pass, a defensive stop or a clearing pass. “It doesn’t have to be a score.”
“In our system,” said Chase Albert, 14, “when we play the puck, we know where a guy is going to be.”
Gauvin has discovered that at the Tier III level, also.
“The difference between house [the level for the more recreational player] and this is you can depend on them to do the job and don’t have to worry [where they’ll be].”
Richards added, “Everybody knows their role, where they need to be and when.”
The pace of play is faster as well.
“Everything you do you have to do faster and you have to think faster,” said Gauvin.
Thinking is a key to improving, according to Richards.
“We teach them to think ahead, plan what they will do if the puck comes to them,” Richards said. “So when it comes, they already know what they’re going to do.”
Gauvin and Lane are defensemen. They see the importance of the position and enjoy it.
“If it’s late in the game, I like making plays,” said Lane, who also plays on the Bangor High JV team.
“You’re the last line [before the goalie], and you get to hit people,” said Gauvin.
Albert, who is in his second year with the Freeze, started playing hockey when he was 6.
“After the first year, I wanted to be a goalie,” he said. Albert has been in goal ever since.
Richards is quick to give credit to the new head coach, 25-year-old Lance Ingerson.
“He’s very open,” said Richards.
“I think he’s the wave of the future [for coaches],” he added. “Someone without a kid in the program.”
For that reason, it can’t appear to players and parents that he’s playing favorites.
“It works well,” said Richards.
John Colannino and Steve Fowler are the other assistant coaches, and they also add a wealth of coaching experience.
“We’ve got 40-plus years total as coaches, and we all get along well,” said Richards.
Just like the players.
The other team members are Makayla Brown, Joseph Brozyna, Cameron Burpee, Gino Caccese, Stanley Clarke, Elizabeth Colannino, Brianna Cota, Caleb Eggert, Matt Fowler, Christopher Hoxie, Lucas Shorette, Jeff Speckhardt, Jordan Stanley and Kyle Webb.
“They all get along well,” said Richards. “There are no cliques.
“They all shine together.”
Bangor annual meeting set
Bangor Youth Hockey will hold its annual meeting 6:15 p.m. Jan. 24 in the warm room at Sawyer Arena.
There are five director positions to be filled, all three-year terms. After the new directors are settled in, the board will elect the officers in April.
People interested in running for director, or if they’re interested in helping the other committees of the association, such as fundraising and so forth, are also urged to attend.