BANGOR, Maine — The John Bapst High School Crusaders made a statement on Saturday night.
By upending previously unbeaten Messalonskee of Oakland 5-4 in overtime at Sawyer Arena, the Crusaders let it be known that they expect to contend for the Eastern Maine Class B hockey title that was claimed by Messalonskee last season.
The Crusaders are riding a four-game winning streak, are now 6-3 and sitting in third place in the Heal points standings behind 8-1 Messalonskee and 6-2 Brewer.
Their losses have been to Messalonskee (1-0), Brewer (5-3) and Western Maine Class B unbeaten Camden Hills (8-0).
“We all knew we’d be a contender but not many other people did,” said senior goalie Jaron Leonard, one of the keys to the Crusaders’ success.
For the seniors, it has been four years in the making.
They won only one game as freshmen, six as sophomores and eight a year ago.
“It’s kind of cool going from the bottom up toward the top now,” said Leonard.
“We’re there skill-wise but the biggest thing is we’re coming together as a team,” said senior center Jacob Fletcher, who leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and four assists. “It’s hard at Bapst because we’re all from different communities. But we’re all one unit now and we all like each other.”
Senior center Alex LaFrance said the team has a lot of balance.
“We play three deep lines and each line is effective. A lot of other teams have one real good line but their second lines can’t compete with our balance,” he said.
“Having three lines gives us a lot more energy [than our opponents],” said senior defenseman Kurt Massey.
“We also have a lot of passion and desire to win,” added LaFrance.
Second-year coach Gene Fadrigon said the Crusaders are “getting better every game.
“We’ve got some lines that seem to be working. There’s chemistry there. It took a while to figure it out,” said Fadrigon. “We’ve been playing real well defensively. The forwards are starting to come back and help out in the defensive zone and that really helps. Our defense tandems complement each other well and Jaron has made some huge saves. He has kept us in some games. He has come up big for us. He’s certainly a plus on that side of the puck.”
In the win over Messalonskee, John Bapst rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie in regulation and junior defenseman Joe Archambault won it in overtime.
“That was a huge win,” said Leonard. “That put us right behind Brewer.”
Brewer coach Dave Shedd said the Crusaders are definitely a contender.
“They’re a handful for anyone,” he said. “They’re a hard-working team and they’re fast.”
“There’s no doubt about it, they’re a very legitimate contender,” said Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse. “They’re a really good team. They have good forwards. Fletcher is a top-quality player. Their defense is good and their goaltending is good. They’re a solid, complete team.”
Fletcher centers a line between sophomore Jonathan Cheff (3 goals, 5 assists) and senior Seth Yachinin (2 and 4). LaFrance (3 and 1) centers another line between junior Mathew Spear (2 and 2) and sophomore Hunter Pate (2 and 4). Speedy freshman Nate Reese is the third-line center and is flanked by sophomore Josiah Simko and freshman Logan Cyr-Ellis, the line’s leading point-producer with 1 and 4.
The Crusaders have also been getting some useful point production from their defense corps.
Massey has 3 and 7 and junior Ethan Handley has 1 and 9. Archambault has scored a pair of goals and junior Ray Hummels has been a model of consistency defensively and provides a physical presence.
Fletcher’s 13 goals are a credit to his development, according to Fadrigon.
“He’s starting to create more opportunities for himself because he’s looking to create more opportunities for others,” said Fadrigon.
Fletcher credited his linemates.
“Our line is getting in sync. It’s working out well. It’s a good combination,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who scores the goals for our team.”
Leonard, a three-year starter, sharpened his game by playing for the Maine Freeze’s Under-18 team in the fall.
“We’d have only eight kids show up. I’d face tons of shots and we’d lose by a lot but it helped me so much,” said Leonard. “I’d be facing 40-50 shots per game from prep school kids.”
He said he learned how to position himself and economize his movement so he could do a better job stopping second-chance opportunities and handling close-range shots.
“He has been playing great,” said Massey, who added that the communication between Leonard and the defense corps has been very good.
The players also said Fadrigon and the coaching staff, which also includes Tyler Fadrigon, Josh Landers and Andrew Casey has been instrumental in their success.
“Coach [Gene] Fadrigon is a real good coach. He definitely knows his stuff,” said Leonard. “And the assistants have helped us a lot.”
John Bapst will host fellow title contender Hampden Academy at 7:40 p.m. Friday.