BREWER, Maine — The Brewer High School hockey team has been one of the state’s most dominant programs in recent years.
Brewer posted a record of 128-21-5 in its last 154 games and won two state Class B championships and three Eastern Maine B titles plus made a pair of EM semifinal appearances in Class A.
Brewer went 18-2 this season but was upset by first-year Class B school Messalonskee of Oakland, which dropped down from Class A, in the Eastern Maine title game 5-2.
But the departure of an eight-member senior class and the potential loss of one of the state’s premier players, Kyle Alexander, to prep school could very well bring the Witches back to the pack next season.
“The league should be fairly tight next year, maybe tighter than ever,” said Brewer coach Dave Shedd. “But I feel confident that with half-decent goaltending, we’ll be one of the top five or six teams in the league.”
Meanwhile, across the Penobscot River, the Class A Bangor Rams will have an impressive list of returnees off its 14-6 team that lost to EM titlist St. Dom’s of Auburn 2-1 in overtime in the semifinals.
“I think we’ll be very good next year,” said Bangor coach Denis Collins. “We lose six seniors, but only three saw a lot of ice time.”
“[State and Western Maine champ] Thornton Academy is losing 14 seniors, Lewiston is losing 12 and St. Dom’s is losing nine,” added Collins. “We plan on being better next year.”
In looking at the two programs, Brewer will have to replace four or five (depending on Alexander) of its top seven forwards including Tyler White, Joey Fowler and Jacob Chapman; two of its top four defensemen (Mike Shedd, Nick Moore) and one of its two goalies (Adam Cossette).
“I’m looking forward to working with a new group of kids,” Shedd said. “We won’t be as talented with the puck, but we’ll be fast. Some of the guys who were on the third and fourth lines this year will have an opportunity to step into [more prominent] roles and show what they’ve got.”
Left wing Spencer Valley, one of the Witches’ top scorers this season, will return as will Alec Wortman, who saw some duty on the top two lines.
The forwards who will be taking on more prominent roles, including some who saw primarily JV duty this past season, will include Gabe Valley, Zach Torrey, Mike Armstrong, Gehrig White, Andrew Collins, Jonathan Shedd and Avery Hileman.
The Witches will have two experienced and reliable defensemen in Brody Valley and Jake Caron, who will be seniors. They have been tandem partners for two years.
They will be complemented by the likes of Josh McNally, Jimmy Donnelly and Torrey, who can play both forward and defense.
Goalie Patrick Spaulding, who will be a senior, had another solid season and split the goaltending with Cossette until Cossette won the job down the stretch.
Messalonskee appears poised to make a title defense, although coach Mike Latendresse will have to replace dynamic leading scorer Sam Dexter, high-scoring defenseman Travis St. Pierre and multi-time all-Eastern Maine goalie Nate DelGiudice.
Prolific sophomores Chase Cunningham and James Varney, who were Dexter’s line mates, headline the list of returnees.
Shedd expects Hampden Academy, John Bapst of Bangor, Orono and Houlton-Hodgdon to also be in the mix, and Presque Isle could surprise.
Bangor will return five of its top six scorers, but replacing Travis Roy Award finalist and All-Eastern Maine first-team selection Chris Howat in net will be the big question mark.
All-EM first-team pick Parker Sanderson, a junior who had 17 goals and 27 points in 18 regular-season games, was the team’s leading scorer and had a dramatic impact after spending his first two seasons with Houlton-Hodgdon.
Juniors Zach Papsadora (17 points), Carl Farnham (15) and Zeb Tuell (9) also had impressive seasons, and Jordan Tracy (8), Jake Fournier and Nick Graham were freshman contributors.
Senior Connor Griffin, the team’s No. 2 scorer with 18 points before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the playoff quarterfinal win over Brunswick, will be the key loss up front along with Wyatt Frost (8 points).
Sophomore Cam Dickson (12 points) headed up a youthful but dependable defense corps along with fellow sophomores Galen Perry, Justin Courtney and Kyle Farley and freshmen Sam Kenney and Sam Huston.
Papsadora and Dickson were All-EM second-team picks.
JV goalie Richard Powell has practiced with the varsity team and is the only goalie returning.
“We should be better up front and our defense will be more seasoned,” said Collins.