ORONO, Maine — Maine has two teams entered in the New England District’s Tier II Peewees Regional at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena this weekend, and one of them appreciates the short journey to the eight-team tournament.
“We’ve done a lot of traveling this year,” said Kent Salfi, coach of the Maine Freeze Tier II Peewees (ages 11-12) of the Greater Bangor area. “Earning the right to play here is fantastic.”
Five states make up the New England District. USA Hockey, the governing body for youth hockey in the U.S., has designated Massachusetts as its own district. Massachusetts has approximately 30,000 youth hockey players compared to Maine’s 5,000, according to Maine Amateur Hockey Association president Chris Washburn.
A Casco Bay Youth Hockey squad will also represent Maine. Connecticut and New Hampshire also will send two teams each, while Vermont and Rhode Island send one apiece.
The regional starts Friday at 4 p.m. with pool play, continues Saturday with the remainder of pool play and finishes with the semifinals and final Sunday.
Teams are split into two divisions for pool play with no state having two teams in the same pool. The top two teams in each division advance to the semifinals Sunday morning with the No. 1 team in one division facing the No. 2 team in the other. The winners play at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
This is one of three New England District tournaments the state will host this month. The other two will be March 15-17: the Tier III Squirts Sectional (for ages 9-10) at the University of Southern Maine Ice Arena in Gorham, and the 16-and-Under Girls and U19 Girls events at The Bank of Maine Ice Vault in Hallowell and the Bonnefond Ice Arena at Kents Hill School.
Sectional tournaments do include Massachusetts teams, meaning Maine and New Hampshire will be reduced to one representative each, keeping the total number of teams at eight.
All told, there are about 15 tournaments.
“We have to divvy them up each year, so Maine can host between two and four tournaments each year in the New England District,” said Washburn, whose organization is taking a different approach this year to hosting tournaments.
“In the past, we’ve put them out and let our local associations run them,” Washburn said. “We’ve gone to a new format where Maine Amateur Hockey actually runs them now.”
There could be a problem with local associations hosting a tournament because it might be five or six years between events, Washburn said, and the people experienced at staging an event might have left the organization.
“We want to make sure our best foot’s forward and we’re running them in the best manner possible,” Washburn said.
The local organizations — 20 in total — are OK with that.
“Absolutely. Each of our associations has a vote at the state level, and I think if I look back, this was a unanimous vote to make this change,” said Washburn.
Washburn, who lives in Old Town and is a past officer with Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference, is the tournament director for the Peewee regional, and he’ll have a couple of dozen volunteers helping him.
He also hires some local people to handle the clock, the score sheet and the penalty boxes.
“We don’t pay a lot for it,” said Washburn, “but if you have people running the score clock or the score sheet who don’t necessarily do it on a regular basis, fans can get very upset if the clock’s not being run right.”
He expects a fair number of fans to attend.
“We certainly won’t fill the Alfond, but we’ll have a good crowd,” Washburn said.
Tickets are $10 for one day or $15 for the weekend.
States find out in June which events they’re hosting the following March so they have time to get volunteers, check with local arenas about availability and start lining up hotel rooms, which isn’t as easy as it might seem.
“All the hotels are helping us, but I’m amazed at what it’s like to book them. They all seem busy,” said Washburn.
Salfi is just concerned with having his team ready, and he thinks it is.
“It’s been a great year,” he said. “The kids have come a long way. We’ve played in four tournaments this year and been in the finals of three of them.”
That includes winning the New England Sports Center Challenge Cup.
“On paper, I don’t think we’re the strongest team, but they’ve really meshed and played well together,” said Salfi, a former standout for the University of Maine men’s hockey team. “They’re just a great bunch of kids.”
Their chemistry on the ice has been building all season, Salfi said, and he tries to maintain that chemistry by making five-player substitutions as much as possible.
“I try to keep them together as five-player units,” he said. “The forwards get used to the defensemen behind and the defensemen get used to working with a particular [forward] line.”
Salfi said he wants the Freeze to concentrate on the basics: getting the puck to the net, crashing the net and protecting the net.
“Doing things well consistently gives us a good chance to succeed,” he said.
Salfi thinks it will be a fun weekend.
“This is a great age group,” said Salfi. “I can’t say enough about these kids and how much fun it’s been.”