PORTLAND, Maine — The Casco Bay Midget Minors (Under-16) hockey team went through the regular season undefeated and has continued that success through the first two games of the state tournament.
Their next test will be Saturday against the Maine Freeze, the travel team program for Bangor Youth Hockey, Brewer Youth Hockey and the Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference, at 11:20 a.m. at the Biddeford Ice Arena. Casco Bay went 13-0-1 in the regular season, while the Freeze were 10-3-1. Both teams are 2-0 in Pool A and will advance to the semifinals as the top two teams in each pool advance.
“When I saw we had the Freeze in our regular round-robin pool, I just thought, ‘Well, we’ve got to beat them at some point,’” said Casco Bay coach Ed Harding, “and figuring we might be the top two teams, we might have to beat them twice anyway.
“Biddeford is going to have something to say about that as well, though.”
Biddeford finished second in the regular season at 11-2-1 and is 1-0 as the No. 1 team in Pool B.
“It’s going to be tough, no matter who we have to play,” Harding said. “We’ll be ready Saturday morning.”
Harding expects his team will have its hands full because the Freeze are the ones who tied Casco Bay in the regular season.
“I think the first game we played, down here, they probably outshot us and out-physicalled us. We just got the better goaltending [and won],” Harding said. “Up there, when we tied, it was the same thing, especially in the first half. They were a lot stronger on their sticks than us. … They’ve got a very good hockey team. They’ve got a lot of kids that work hard.”
He expects more of the same Saturday.
“They looked very good this past weekend, so we’re going to have to play our best if we’re going to beat them on Saturday,” he said.
Harding sees goaltending as the key for his team, and he feels he has two good ones.
“Jason Blier is from the Brunswick area and plays at Cheverus [of Portland], and Kyle Kramlich is from Cumberland and plays at Greely,” Harding said. “They both play equal amounts of time. I don’t know what their stats are exactly, but I’d say they’re pretty equal, as well. I think our team is confident whichever goaltender is in.”
Each goalie plays one of the two 22½-minute periods that comprise a game at this level. Harding expects to continue that through the playoffs. Partly, it’s because they are playing so well, and partly because Midget hockey is also about preparing players for the high school season, which starts its practices on Nov. 19.
But for now, Harding is focused only on the next game.
“We’re very similar to the Bangor team,” he said. “We have some good numbers, we have depth. I have three [forward] lines, per se, and six [defensemen], and I think they have four lines and six [defensemen], plus two goalies [each].”
Harding believes his team can counter the Freeze’s extra line.
“I like to think we have three No. 1 lines, to be quite frank, but having said that the Bangor team has played us very, very tough this year.”
Casco Bay was the top-scoring team in the league with 85 goals, while Blier and Kramlich combined to give up a league-low 16. The Freeze were second in scoring with 70 and gave up 29, while Biddeford scored 68 and allowed 27.
In the playoffs, the Freeze have scored 18 and allowed two in their two games, while Casco Bay has scored 15 and given up one against the same two opponents. Biddeford won its game 9-2 and has two games slated Saturday.
This is Harding’s first year as a Casco Bay coach and he never met any of his players before this year.
“I was asked to help out to evaluate these guys back in April to form the two teams,” he said. “I was a pretty neutral observer because I don’t think I knew one player by name. I put in my two cents’ worth at the evaluations and walked away.”
Later, Harding, who coached North Yarmouth Academy’s prep team for one year and the Lewiston Maineiacs for six years, was called about taking this post and accepted.
“I had some free time, and they approached me. It was a good fit, and I’ve had fun with it,” he said.