The Brewer High School hockey team is known for its prolific goal scoring.
But the 18-1 Witches, who have scored 136 goals, also have benefited from the improvement in their defense corps and will be looking for another solid performance from its blue-liners in Tuesday night’s Eastern Maine Class B championship game against 17-3 Messalonskee of Oakland at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena in Orono.
Game time is 7.
Brewer is seeking its third straight EM Class B crown against a team it beat 7-5 and 6-4 during the regular season.
Messalonskee dropped down from Class A this season.
Seniors Mike Shedd and Nick Moore are one defense tandem with juniors Jake Caron and Brody Valley comprising the other. Senior Ian Forrest also gets some playing time.
“They’ve improved a lot,” said Brewer junior goalie Patrick Spaulding. “They’ve been pretty solid. I’ve been impressed.”
Brewer has allowed just eight goals in its last five games.
“They’ve gotten 100 times better,” said senior goalie Adam Cossette. “At the beginning of the year, we were giving up goals we didn’t need to be letting up. Now they’re playing at the top of their games, they’re twice as disciplined and they’re playing good solid defense.”
A change in strategy helped.
“We’ve decided to really buckle down and play very conservatively as opposed to trying to score a lot of goals from the point,” said Caron, who is in his second season on a tandem with Valley. “We’ve made it our self-appointed duty to keep the puck away from our goalie as much as we can.”
Shedd, who was the most experienced of the returning defensemen, said the defense corps has progressed “very well” over the course of the season.
“A lot of communication has helped,” he said.
Shedd has been a leader, according to Moore, who saw limited service a year ago.
“Mike has helped me out a lot both on and off the ice,” said Moore. “He will point things out to me and tell me things I need to work on.”
“If Nick has a question or does something different that he could have done better, we’ll explain it to him and he’ll try to change it and will work on it. That’s a big plus,” said Shedd.
Caron said the fact he and Valley have played together for two seasons and also saw time together in youth hockey has been valuable.
“We always know where each other is going to be,” said Caron.
Shedd said he and the other defensemen have done a better job “picking up our heads” and surveying the ice rather than just blindly trying to clear the puck. That can lead to costly turnovers.
“We’ll step back off the [blue] line on defense to allow more time to get back and help out Adam and Patrick in goal,” said Shedd.
Senior right wing Tyler White said in addition to the improvement in the defense corps, the forwards have made a more concerted effort to help out on the defensive end of things as well.
“We aren’t cherry-picking as much. We’re getting [deeper] in the defensive zone and clogging up the front of the net so they won’t get more than one shot,” said White.
Cherry-picking refers to forwards leaving the defensive zone early to try to get behind the opposing defensemen and get a breakaway opportunity.
The Witch defense corps will face a formidable challenge on Tuesday as coach Mike Latendresse’s Eagles have a high-powered top line featuring Sam Dexter, Chase Cunningham and James Varney.
“It’s one of the best lines in the state,” said Brewer junior center Alexander.
“They like to send a guy back door so we’re going to have to watch out for that,” said Shedd, who also noted that they have to try to limit their time and space with the puck and prevent them from controlling the puck in the offensive zone.
The Eagles also feature defenseman Travis St. Pierre and goalie Nate Delgiudice.
Brewer has been led offensively by White, Jacob Chapman, Spencer Valley, Alexander and Joey Fowler.