The previous three seasons had been difficult ones for Presque Isle High School hockey coach Carl Flynn.
His Wildcats didn’t qualify for the Class B North playoffs in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons and, last season, they were thumped in the quarterfinals by Brewer 9-0.
He had just 13 players in each of his non-playoff years and only 16 a year ago.
The numbers were low and compounding the situation were academic casualties and player suspensions.
“We had a short bench. One year we had a player, Cooper Madore, who would play 44 of the 45 minutes each game because if he didn’t, we would have been embarrassed,” said Flynn.
Flynn’s daughter, all-conference goalie Jillian Flynn, also helped limit the damage.
But Carl Flynn said the program persevered and “weathered the storm” without seeking a partner for a cooperative team.
And they have had an exceptional turnaround season which has landed them in the Class B North final against Old Town-Orono at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Alfond Arena in Orono.
Presque Isle is 14-6 while Old Town-Orono is 18-1 including two wins over Presque Isle, 3-2 in Presque Isle on Jan. 19 and 7-1 at the Alfond Arena a week later.
There are just four seniors on PI’s 21-player roster and Flynn said the future is bright with good numbers and talent in incoming classes.
Presque Isle will be appearing in its first regional since since the Wildcats lost to eventual state champ Messalonskee of Oakland 9-3 in 2014.
The Wildcats won the regional title in 2009 but lost to Greely of Cumberland Center 5-1 in the state final.
“Coincidentally, (2009) was when our current freshman class started playing hockey,” said Flynn, who is a family doctor.
One of those freshman, Colby Carlisle, who centers one of their top lines, recruited some of his friends from the basketball court onto the ice, according to Flynn, and their addition has been valuable.
“They’re a very gritty team,” said Old Town-Orono coach Denis Collins. “There isn’t a big drop-off between their top two lines. And that’s very different. A lot of teams we see, there is a dramatic drop-off from the first line to the second line.”
Flynn, who is in his 13th season, is enjoying his team.
“It’s a very good group,” said Flynn who added that the local support for the team has been terrific.
“(Flynn) has done a good job with them. It’s a young team and they always finish strong,” said Collins.
Presque Isle beat sixth seed Camden Hills 7-2 in the quarterfinals and second seed Kennebec (Waterville-Winslow) 6-3 in the semis to book its spot in the final while the Black Bears received a first-round bye as the top seed and beat fourth seed Hampden Academy 7-3 in the semis.
Collins felt his team played “very well” against Hampden and expects a closer game than the last meeting with Presque Isle.
‘We’re going to have to play three hard periods,” said Collins.
Both teams like to play a fast, up-tempo style of hockey.
Old Town-Orono is a more veteran team and will have the benefit of playing on its home ice. The Black Bears also have more playoff experience, reaching the regional final last year before losing 6-5 in overtime to eventual two-time state champ Waterville.
Flynn said he knows his team will be the underdog.
“(Old Town-Orono) has quite a few seniors. They have two scoring lines and some very offensive-minded defensemen,” said Flynn who added that Black Bear center Jacob Dubay is one of the best players in Class B.
“He’s very good and he has more support this year so he doesn’t have to exhaust himself,” said Flynn.
Senior Dubay and sophomore linemate Tyler McCannell have over 40 points apiece and they are joined on their line by sophomore Sam Henderson. The other scoring line features freshman Tanner Evans between senior Ben Allan-Rahill and junior Trent Lick. Senior Josh Wheeler and Finnish exchange student Antti Jarvicare are talented attack-minded defenseman and junior Kohle Parker is the goalie.
Junior center Jake Stevens has four playoff goals for PI and linemate Thomas Patenaude has two. Two other juniors, Riley Kinney and Bailey York, switch off on the other wing. Freshmen Carlisle and Gage Letourneau and sophomore Connor Demerchant comprise the other scoring line and Letourneau has a goal and five assists in the playoffs.
Junior Torey Levesque and freshman Noah Roy have been standouts on the blue line in front of junior goalie Andre Daigle.
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