Three of Class B North’s most improved high school hockey teams will open the playoffs on Tuesday night and two will square off against each other.
Hampden Academy’s fourth-seeded Broncos, 13-5, will take on No. 5 Houlton/Hodgdon/Southern Aroostook/Katahdin, 9-8-1, at approximately 7:10 at the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer.
The Hampden Academy Broncos were 3-15 a year ago while the Blackhawks from Houlton/Hodgdon/Southern Aroostook/Katahdin were 1-16. Neither made the playoffs.
Their game will follow the 5 p.m. matchup between No. 3 Brewer, 11-6-1, and No. 6 Presque Isle, 9-9.
The other team that has shown dramatic improvement, 14-2-2 Old Town-Orono, will entertain No. 7 Camden Hills, 4-12-2, at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena in Orono.
Top seed and defending state champ Waterville, 17-1, earned a quarterfinal-round bye.
Old Town-Orono was 6-10-1 a year ago.
Adding interest to the game between the Broncos and the Blackhawks is the fact they played a pair of 5-4 overtime games during the season. Hampden Academy won both.
“It’s almost too bad that we have to play each other,” said Blackhawks coach Tony Marino. “We have both had tremendous turnarounds.
“But that’s the way it falls,” added Marino, whose team will be making its first playoff appearance in his four seasons on the bench.
The Blackhawks won just two games in his first three seasons.
“I’m sure there will be some nerves and that type of thing for the players. But we played two overtime games against them so we know we can play with them,” said Marino.
The Blackhawks have been led by standout center Josh Malone and all-conference defenseman Abe Lorom. Brandon Dunn, A.J. Henderson and Drew Marino have been other catalysts up front and Marino said moving Nick DeLucca from forward to defense has “definitely helped us.”
Sophomore Ian Neureuther has been solid in net.
The Blackhawks coach said Hampden Academy has exceptional players in Marc Thibodeau and Marcus Dunn and Cole Brenner is a quality goalie who covers a lot of net.
Brewer posted two comfortable regular season wins over Presque Isle, 8-1 and 7-2, but Old Town-Orono played to a 0-0 tie with Camden Hills earlier this month after beating the Windjammers 8-2 on Jan. 4.
Old Town-Orono’s only two losses have come to Waterville, including a wild 8-7 affair earlier this month.