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Skowhegan’s Provencal enjoys keeping balls and pucks out of the net

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Skowhegan's Anthony James Paul (left) and Ann-Marie Provencal (right) battle for the puck with Hampden's Cooper Antone during a game in Brewer on Jan. 9, 2013.
By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff

SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Skowhegan High School’s Anne-Marie Provencal has had an interesting athletic career.

As the goalie for the state’s best field hockey program, she was rarely tested.

The three-year starter will graduate with three state Class A championships as Skowhegan shut out its opponents in all three state title games.

Skowhegan allowed just two goals in 17 games this season, both to Messalonskee of Oakland, while scoring 147.

But as a regular defenseman for the boys ice hockey team, there is no shortage of action. Nor was there a shortage her freshman season when she was the one and only goaltender.

“My parents [Stephen and Maureen] came to my last field hockey practice because they wanted to see me work a little bit,” quipped the 17-year-old Provencal. “Coach [Paula] Doughty made me work hard in practice. She kept me busy.”

But ice hockey is more to her liking.

“It has always been my favorite sport,” she said. “I’ve been playing it since I was a little kid. Field hockey is also up there although there wasn’t much action. But I still liked it.”

Unlike most players who love to score, Provencal prefers the keeping pucks or field hockey balls out of her net.

“That’s pretty much my job. I love doing it,” said Provencal, who has helped the Indians hold their opponents to 27 goals in 14 games so far this winter.

She is from an ice hockey family.

Older brothers Thomas and Anthony played hockey and used to get her on the ice with them.

She also plays travel hockey for the Maine Moose’s Under-19 girls’ team. She skated during clinics at Winslow’s Sukee Arena in the fall during field hockey season.

Provencal is a regular on the blue line for the Indians and has been throughout her career.

“She’s a very good defenseman,” said Messalonskee of Oakland coach Mike Latendresse. “She’s solid. She makes plays, she skates well and she knows the game.”

“She makes great decisions,” said Skowhegan senior defenseman Kam Nelson, who has been her defense partner since their sophomore season. “She knows where everyone is and she works hard to make the right pass on the breakout. If she gets in trouble, she’ll get the puck to me and I’ll give it to someone else [on the breakout].”

Nelson and Provencal have a healthy chemistry and camaraderie.

“I love playing with her. She’s a good defense partner. We work well together,” said Nelson. “We talk out there.”

The feeling is mutual as she thoroughly enjoys being his partner and said they read off each other extremely well because of their familiarity.

Skowhegan coach Jeff Fowler said Provencal is a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman.

“She plays a smart game,” said Fowler. “She keeps her head up, and she’s a good skater and a good passer. She plays her position well and thinks the game well.”

Provencal feels she has improved consistently and although she isn’t enamored with absorbing body checks, “I have to put up with it. It’s just the way the game is. It’s a physical game.”

The 5-foot-6-inch, 145-pound Provencal said playing on a boys hockey team “makes me think quicker on my skates because you have to. That helps me a lot when I play on the girls team. I have more time [with the puck].”

She said she has been fortunate to have played for a number of top-notch coaches.

“They have really taught me to read the play and see what’s coming. I try not to make bad choices with the puck,” said Provencal. “Coach [Fowler] trusts me out there, and I feel that I can compete with the boys. And my teammates trust that I can.”

She knows if she takes a crunching hit, help is on the way.

“The guys protect me. I’ve played with them for a long time. They’re so nice and so supportive. You couldn’t ask for a better group to play with,” she said.

The Indians are 11-2-1 in Eastern Maine Class A and are just one win away from tying the school record for wins in a season. They have four games remaining.

“We’re having a great year. We’re doing a lot better than we have in the past,” said Provencal. “We’re hoping to reach that goal [13 wins]. We’re working real hard and we’d like to go far in the playoffs.”

Provencal hopes to continue her ice hockey career in college next season.

She is leaning toward the University of Southern Maine or the University of New England in Biddeford, but she will have one more season before heading off to college.

She also plays softball.

And, naturally, she’s a catcher.

“I like to stay busy,” she said.

Skowhegan adapts to outdoors

The Indians have been practicing on their outdoor, covered rink at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds for three to four weeks since ending their early-morning sessions at Sukee Arena in Winslow.

They are one of few teams who practice on an outdoor ice rink.

The rink — which has a roof but no walls — doesn’t have faceoff circles or goal creases but does have the red line, two blue lines and nets.

“We don’t mind it a lot of the time, just when it’s real cold and windy like it was last week,” said Nelson. “We deal with it. Coach makes up great practice plans and drills we need to work on.”

“We’ve all gotten used to it,” said Provencal. “That’s what’s good about our team. We take what we have and work with it.”

“The ice isn’t bad. It’s pretty good. But it does get snowy pretty quickly,” added Provencal. “And we have to walk on rocks to get to the ice.”

“It’s always challenging,” said Fowler. “The temperature plays a factor in it. There are some limitations with the drills we do, but we just have to be more imaginative. It does dull the skates quicker.”

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