Mike Brown didn’t stumble into being a goaltender.
He wasn’t asked by a youth hockey coach if he wanted to give it a try because the regular goalie couldn’t make it.
“I just always wanted to do it,” said the Orono High School junior after making 53 saves in a 6-5 win over Presque Isle in their regular season finale Tuesday night.
He said he was “8 or 9” when he began slapping on the goalie pads and this season has been special because he has backstopped the Red Riots to their first Eastern Maine Class B playoff spot since 2007.
The 8-8-2 Red Riots will be the sixth seed and will visit No. 3 Presque Isle, 11-7, for a quarterfinal game Tuesday night.
Orono will enter the game on a 7-2-1 run thanks to Brown, who has allowed two goals or less six times in the 10 games. In another game, he allowed three goals.
Brown has been happy with his recent play.
“I’ve been playing well. I’m just trying to stop shots and keep the rebounds under control,” he said.
“He has been phenomenal. I’d put him up against any goalie in the league and he has gotten better as the year has gone along,” said Orono coach Greg Hirsch, a former University of Maine goalie along with assistant Blair Marsh. “He’s a lot more calm, he sees the puck well and makes saves look easy. He’s on his angles and he stays square to the shooters.”
Having two goalies on the coaching staff has been valuable, according to Brown.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from them,” said Brown. “It has really helped especially since both of them played Division I hockey.”
Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn said Brown is among the league’s elite goalies.
“He’s very good. He’s in the same class as Colannino and Delgiudice,” said Flynn referring to Old Town’s Nathan Colannino and Messalonskee of Oakland’s Nate Delgiudice.
“Connor (Shaw) and I would come down in a two-on-one or two-on-two and (Brown) would be out cutting off our angle,” said Presque Isle senior center Isaac LaJoie who also considers Brown a top-notch goaltender.
Brown feels the most noticeable improvement in his game is his agility.
“I’ve gotten a lot quicker,” said Brown. “I used to rely on my positioning and my angles and stuff. But I’ve focused a lot on my quickness.”
He explained he has spent a lot of time developing his leg strength in order to improve his quickness.
However, he was quick to point out that goalies can sometimes get “too quick” and that can lead to overcommitting and leaving yourself out of position.
“Mike has been the most important part of our team,” said Orono junior center Matt Cloutier. “He has kept us in a lot of games.”
Brown was outstanding in the win over Presque Isle and he is used to seeing a lot of shots.
“You just have to keep your focus,” he said.
LaJoie, Shaw pacing Wildcats
Despite Tuesday night’s loss, Presque Isle coach Flynn said he likes the way his team has played of late heading into the quarterfinal against Orono.
The Wildcats finished with six wins in their last eight games and the two losses were to once-beaten Brewer, the top seed, 4-3 in overtime at Brewer and the Tuesday loss to Orono in which they outshot the Riots 58-22.
“We’ve got some momentum. (Tuesday night) was a little bump in the road but I’m not too worried about it,” said Flynn. “Conditioning-wise, I think we’re in better shape than any other team including Brewer. If we can get some solid goaltending, play solid defense and minimize our mistakes, we have just as good a chance as anybody else.”
Two of the keys to their success have been linemates LaJoie and Shaw.
They each have more than 100 career points and are in the 50-point range this season.
The Wildcats are averaging five goals per game and they’ve scored five or more goals 11 times in their 18 games.
The third member of the line, Adam Flynn, Carl’s son, just began skating again this week after taking the cast off his ankle. He suffered a high ankle sprain several weeks ago and will practice Thursday and Friday before being reassessed on the weekend, according to Carl Flynn.
Freshman Joe Patenaude and junior Scott Rhynold have taken turns skating on that line.
“They’re both smart hockey players and they have filled his shoes,” said LaJoie.
LaJoie and Shaw are in their second season together as linemates and they enjoy playing together.
“It’s been good. We always know where each other is,” said Shaw.
“We really work well together. It helps when it’s fun and we have so much fun playing together,” said LaJoie. “We can make no-look passes and they land on each other’s sticks.”