GORHAM, Maine — Clay Rowland was a defenseman playing in a hockey all-star game.
As assignments go, it’s up there with being asked to clean the lion’s cage just before the end of his nap.
Still, the Leavitt Area High School senior felt like he ended his career with a roar Saturday night at University of Southern Maine Ice Arena.
“It was fun. It was exciting,” Rowland said. “They were great guys. It was a big honor. I was really proud to be out there with those guys and represent our school.”
Rowland was the Hornets’ lone representative at the inaugural Winter Classic — not Maine high school hockey’s first attempt at a senior all-star showcase, but certainly its most organized and purposeful.
Ninety-two players were selected from around the state, evenly divided from East and West and Classes A and B. Ticket revenue, raffles and other solicited donations benefited Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center.
The format was inspired by football’s Lobster Bowl, a charity event now in its third decade.
“We were told what it was about, and we went out and got donations and stuff like that,” said Jared Hanson of Maranacook/Winthrop. “We were playing for a good cause.”
Led by two goals from Dan Condon of Messalonskee, the Class B East all-stars tripped up Rowland and Hanson’s West team, 4-2.
Drew Lavigne’s hat trick and Jake Gross’ short-handed go-ahead goal in the third period pushed Class A West to a 7-5 victory in the nightcap.
Coaches Jamie Gagnon of Thornton and Norm Gagne of Scarborough and WGME sports director Dave Eid brainstormed the idea in the fall over a cup of coffee.
Previous all-star games were played at Family Ice in Falmouth and Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston with little fanfare, and primarily out of the coaches association’s coffers.
“We tried to pay our bills and just showcase the seniors,” Gagne said. “But we never got the crowd. This was a bigger deal. This was great. We got a great crowd. Hopefully we can build on it now.”
Gagne said plaques were given to the player from each team who solicited the most money.
Players also pre-sold tickets at $10 for adults and $5 for students, which were good for both games of the doubleheader.
“We had already sold more than 200 tickets before we even opened the door. That gave us a huge boost,” Gagne said.
The crowd — at least triple that number at the start of both games — saw quality hockey, despite a relative lack of practice time.
Rowland and Hanson’s seasons ended nearly a month ago. Nick Lacasse of the Maranacook/Winthrop cooperative team also was on the West squad.
They had a getting-to-know-you practice Tuesday, followed by a scrimmage Thursday night.
“Most of the coaches and some of their friends,” Rowland said of the opposition. “They won. Those guys were pretty good. They can still bring it.”
“I’m still feeling that one,” said Gorham coach Jon Portwine, who guided the West along with Barry Mothes of Greely and Karl Enroth of Camden Hills.
Six Lewiston players — Travis Roy Award finalist Kyle Lemelin, Evan Gosselin, Matt Poulin, Max Bolduc, Ethan Melvin and Eddie Emerson — led the Class A East squad.
Chase Hainey of regional champion St. Dom’s, Sedrick Simons of Edward Little and Kaleb Bridgham of Gray-New Gloucester/Poland also represented their programs.
Gosselin set up Poulin’s goal in the opening minute of the second period of the Class A tilt.
“We were supposed to practice twice,” East coach Craig Latuscha of EL said. “We got together Tuesday, only missing a couple of kids. Then we were supposed to go Thursday, but we had the storm. I’m not sure how many the West had.”
“Seven,” Gagnon joked before telling the true story with a raised index finger.
Under those circumstances, relatively familiar combinations clicked.
Condon’s two goals bookending the second period were courtesy of Winslow’s Walker Thompson and Messalonskee teammate Chase Cunningham.
Josh Towle of Messalonskee and Gehrig White of Brewer also scored goals for the East. Robert Stowe of Hampden picked up two assists.
Ryan Keefe of Kennebunk and Jack Orne of Camden Hills scored for Class B West. Hanson assisted Keefe.
In the more free-wheeling Class A clash, the West jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of goals by Thornton’s Lavigne after one period.
Lewiston figured prominently in the East’s impressive but short-lived comeback.
Gosselin set up Poulin in the opening minute of the second to trigger a run of four unanswered goals by the East. Bolduc’s feed led to a laser by Justin Courtney of Bangor for the equalizer, and Anthony Paul of Lawrence/Skowhegan cleaned up a blast by Melvin to put the East in front.
Bangor’s Cam Dickson made it a two-goal advantage before Alex Grant-Roy of Cheverus and Taylor Browne of Thornton answered to tie it going into the third.
Paul potted his second goal of the night 12 seconds after a tally by Owen Lemoine of Cheverus to keep it even early in the third, but Gross and Lavigne cashed in breakaways in a 52-second span to close it out.