The Maine Freeze hockey organization has experienced varying levels of success in its years as one of the premier hockey clubs in central Maine.
Its newest addition — the U-16 Midget Minor Tier II hockey team, established in 2010 — recently added to that history by taking home its first state championship and qualifying for the national tourney in April.
The Maine Freeze organization has eight teams ranging in ages from 8 (Squirts) to 18 (Midget). This U-16 squad is the oldest age group to win a state title in the club’s existence.
“We had an extremely hardworking team — kids that did what we wanted them to do and more,” head coach Lance Ingerson said. “Our kids never wanted to give up. Every time they stepped on the ice, they wanted to win the game.
“To be able to have that type of season — showing up to practice, working on the things we needed to work on and finishing it off with a championship — was amazing.”
The third-seeded Freeze upended their biggest rival, the top-seeded Maine Moose, in a 2-1, triple-overtime thriller in the championship game on Nov. 10 after beating Casco Bay 5-4 in overtime in their semifinal matchup just hours before at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault in Augusta.
“It was fast, very competitive,” Ingerson said of the championship game. “Both teams gave everything they had. It just came down to, we had a break down the ice, a scramble occurred around the net, and Dylan Cray was able to tap the puck in the net for the game-winner.”
“We always struggled through the season to play the whole, entire game to our ability,” Cray said. “Our goal is to play one, full game. That weekend we had two of three games where we played to our potential.”
Ingerson has been coaching youth hockey for seven years, three of them with the Maine Freeze organization and two of them with this squad. The fact that his team came together during the season and worked as one unit instead of a group of individuals was the main contributor to their success this year, he said.
The Moose had beaten the Freeze 9-4 in the round robin group stage the previous day before falling in the championship that Sunday. Ingerson chalked up the difference from this year’s team to years past not only to the players’ chemistry on the ice, but also to how they could adapt to a variety playing styles.
There were patches during the season where Ingerson’s team did experience a lull in their play, as all teams do. He pointed to a regular season game against the Maine Gladiators as a turning point. The Freeze came back from a two-goal deficit to top the Gladiators 6-3.
“I think hockey is one of those weird things where it doesn’t take much,” he said. “One little break can pull a team right out of [a slump]. Every team has one during the season. We were able to get through that pretty quickly and go on and finish the season the way we intended from the start.”
The Freeze now set their sights on the national tournament in Virginia in April. Club practices will resume in March because the players are now involved in high school hockey’s preseason, prepping for Dec. 6 openers.
“The biggest thing for us [before nationals] is to get back on the ice and improve on the areas we need to improve upon,” Ingerson said.
“These kids will be playing against the top teams in the country at their age level, which is an unbelievable opportunity for them to see what the kids from different areas of the country are like and how they play the game,” he continued. “It’s really an opportunity to see how kids from this area compare to other parts of the country.”
The U-16 roster, which is made up of players from Bangor, Brewer and the surrounding communities, includes: goaltenders Chase Albert and Derek Fournier; defensemen Ben Crichton, Riley Eastman, Brennan Lane, Jack Schroder and Kyle Webb; and forwards Cameron Burpee, Cameron Cota, Cray, Logan Cyr-Ellis, Trevor Delaite, Andrew Elston, Colin Glencross, Christopher Hoxie, Andrew Powell, Nathaniel Reese, Gabe Valley and Daniel Webber.