PORTLAND, Maine — With a trip to the national championships in their sight, the Casco Bay Midget Major youth hockey team buckled down Sunday.
“I think when things are on the line, our guys tended to pay a little bit more attention to detail and what myself and the other coaches were saying to them,” said head coach Peter Metcalf. “I think they finally bought in after watching [a video of the semifinal game]. … Telling them is one thing, showing them is another.”
The Casco Bay Mariners’ Under-18 team applied what they learned and routed the host Maine Moose 8-1 at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault in Hallowell.
“We were able to frustrate the Moose by playing great team defense and not really allowing them anything,” said Metcalf, who played for the University of Maine and professionally in the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League. “And I think the other portion of that was chipping [the puck out of the defensive end], supporting [each other] and moving the puck to the neutral zone. Honestly, we were flying. They couldn’t handle us.”
The U-18 squad was one of two Casco Bay Midget teams to claim a state title Sunday. Both teams advance to national championship tournaments in April.
The finalists had already played a game each in the morning semifinals, Casco Bay shutting out Biddeford 4-0 and the Moose edging the Maine Gladiators of Lewiston/Auburn 3-2.
Casco Bay and the Maine Moose had also faced off in pool play Saturday at the Ice Vault with Casco Bay winning 3-1.
Casco Bay will represent Maine in the U-18 Tier II Nationals in Hartford, Conn., April 3-7.
The Mariners’ Midget Minor (U-16) squad matched the U-18 team’s performance by defeating Biddeford 8-4 at Biddeford Ice Arena, also late Sunday afternoon.
In the morning semis, Casco Bay topped the Portland Jr. Pirates of Saco 5-0 and Biddeford nipped the Maine Freeze of Greater Bangor 2-1.
The U-16 Tier II Nationals will be held in Troy, Mich., also April 3-7.
Unlike the other age groups, the Midgets play a fall schedule so it doesn’t interfere with the Maine high school season, which starts Nov. 19 with tryouts and preseason workouts.
The Mariners got down to business quickly in the U-18 final.
“We were able to frustrate the Moose by playing great team defense and not really allowing them anything,” said Metcalf. “And I think the other portion of that was chipping, supporting and moving the puck to the neutral zone. Honestly, we were flying. They couldn’t handle us.
“The next thing you know, we’re up 3-0 after four, five minutes, and they’re calling a timeout and switching the goalie.”
All that from watching a little video between games and paying attention.
“I think it was three goals, three different shifts, three different lines. So we actually spread the scoring out,” Metcalf said. “I don’t even know if one guy had two goals or not. And different, more-or-less role players on our team were the ones that got the goals.
“That’s the rewarding part, to know these guys aren’t just tuning you out and you’re just another person telling them what to do.”
And convincing his team that defense is important.
“The key was everyone buying into team defense and the fact that if we take care of our end, then everything else will take care of itself,” said Metcalf.
It took a while during the season for his players to catch on. Metcalf couldn’t even consider thinking about winning a state championship.
“Honestly, no,” he said.
But he kept working with them, and he saw they started to care more as the state title loomed.
“I think that had a lot to do with it. And obviously putting the onus on them,” said Metcalf, “saying ‘Hey, we’re only going with the players that work, that want to listen, that do the little things to win. Can I count on you each shift to be on the ice or are you a liability and you won’t play?’
“They finally bought in because there was something on the line at that point whereas all season long it was like, I don’t think these guys are even listening to me.”
But they finished the regular season 6-0-4, the same as the Moose, but they ran the table in the state tourney, winning all five games by outscoring their opponents 24-4.
“At the end of the day we had a lot of fun, we had a great group of guys,” said Metcalf. “They came together at the end of the season and jelled a little bit more.”