Every successful hockey team needs a shutdown defenseman.
They get tons of ice time. They play in every situation.
They protect the front of their net, block shots, win battles for loose pucks, stymie the opposing team’s best forwards and make good breakout passes to trigger the offense.
They also chip in offensively.
The Bangor High School Rams and Brewer High Witches each have one as they prepare to play in their respective semifinals today. Nick George is Bangor’s senior standout defenseman while Chris Lopez is Brewer’s stellar blue-liner.
Third seed Bangor, 12-6-1, will take on No. 2 Waterville, also 12-6-1, in the noon semifinal in Class A at the Colisee in Lewiston. Arch-rivals Lewiston, the top seed at 15-2-1, and No. 4 Saint Dominic of Auburn, 11-8, will square off at 3 p.m.
In Class B, at Winslow’s Sukee Arena, No. 3 Presque Isle, 14-4, and No. 2 Winslow, 12-5-1, will meet in the 5 p.m. semifinal with top seed Brewer, 16-1-1, taking on No. 5 Lawrence of Fairfield, 11-8, at 8.
George: One of the state’s best
Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse said George is one of the best defensemen in the state.
“He’s a great player,” said Latendresse. “He’s a great skater and a great athlete. He’s exciting to watch and very difficult to play against.”
“He’s got a good pair of hands,” observed Lopez.
George, an All-State soccer player, is Bangor’s leading scorer with six goals and 23 assists for 29 points.
“He has meant everything to our team,” said Bangor coach Ted Taylor. “He’s a great leader and an anchor on our team. I tell our defensive coordinator, Dave [McMahon], that we need Nick out there as long as he can stand up. We play him as much as we can. He has phenomenal skill.”
“It’s an honor to be his defense partner,” said Bangor senior defenseman Devin Lyshon. “He’s a great role model. I’ve always looked up to him. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
George has been pleased with his season.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “This is probably one of the better teams I’ve been on the past four years.”
He considers it his best season, individually.
“It definitely has been, points-wise. I’ve improved all over the ice and it’s nice to see it go up on the stats sheet,” said George, adding that he has changed his game to meet the needs of the team.
“I’m a lot more conservative on the defensive end than I normally was,” he said. “I’ve been focusing on playing defense rather than offense and then the offense comes off it.”
George was a forward when he was a freshman but was switched to defense and that is where he has stayed.
He said the four years have gone by quickly and he has worked harder in practice “because I want to try to make this year special.”
“He’s a great stick-handler,” said Ram senior center Nate Lewis. “And he’s great one on one.”
“He’s a great player and a great captain,” said Bangor sophomore left wing Nic Cota.
In addition to George, Bangor has six other players with 17 or more points in Phil Frost (17 goals, 8 assists), Joey Seccareccia (13 & 10), Lyshon (6 & 11), Jacob Turmel (7 & 10) and Ryan King (13 & 4). Chris Howat has a 2.29 goals-against average and an .881 save percentage go with a 9-3-1 record.
Waterville features Nick Deblois (13 & 9), Josh Gaudette (8 & 12), defenseman Matt Lee (3 & 15), Kyle Bishop (11 & 6), Tim Locke (6 & 11) and defenseman David Cook (4 & 9) along with goalie Ryan Cormier (11-6-1, 1.56, .928). The two teams split regular season games.
Lopez delivers for Witches
Lopez was the only defenseman with varsity experience for the Witches and he needed to have a banner year.
The senior has delivered.
“He has had a very good year. He has been exceptional,” said Brewer coach David Shedd. “He has meant a lot to us, defensively, and he has a lot of skill. He plays probably 60 to 65 percent of the game.”
“He’s solid on defense and he gives us a chance to play offense by making great long, hard passes,” said Brewer senior right wing Nick Risser. “He has a great slap shot from the point.”
Risser added that Lopez helps quarterback the power play by making smart decisions with the puck.
“He creates a lot of offense for them,” said Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn. “He’s got a heckuva’ shot and he also lugs the puck up the ice.”
“He’s a good defenseman,” said George.
Lopez has been satisfied with his season to date.
“ I had a lot of high expectations for myself and I’ve done pretty well. There’s always room for improvement,” said Lopez, who has eight goals and 12 assists.
Like George, he has put more emphasis on the defensive aspect of his game this season.
“I’ve had to sit back on defense a little more because we have such a young defense. I’ve tried to help teach them. I’ve tried to lead by example,” said Lopez, who works with the defense corps during practice. “But if the opportunity [to jump into the offense] is there, I’ll take it.”
He feels he has improved his speed and credits Shedd for aiding him in that area.
“He has skated us real hard and that has definitely helped me out a lot,” said Lopez who has also benefited from playing with the Maine Moose, based in Augusta the last two years.
They play before the high school season begins, he said.
Lopez has been pleased with the development of the young defensemen and credited their work ethic with making it possible.
In addition to Lopez, the Witches have been powered by standout senior goalie Eric White and a balanced and high-powered attack featuring Risser (24 & 21), Tyler White (19 & 23), Alec Pacheco (17 & 23), Jacob Chapman (18 & 19) and Evan Nadeau (13 & 21).
Lawrence has been led by Devan Belanger (22 & 13), Matt Woodbury (10 & 13), Jeshua Dearborn (8 & 15) and goalie Brad MacKenzie (3.66 goals-against average).
Brewer beat Lawrence twice during the regular season.
Defending Eastern Maine B titlist Presque Isle has been powered by Brennen Shaw (33 & 27), his brother and linemate Connor Shaw (17 & 15), Isaac Lajoie (6 & 17), Zac Campbell (13 & 9), Mitch Davis (9 & 10) and defensemen Steve Ford (4 & 17) and Jason Martin (7 & 11) along with goalie Josh MacFarline (2.47, .910).
Winslow has been led by Todd Brow (13 & 9) and Justin Bouchard (11 & 10) along with defenseman Charlie Kriegel (5 & 4) and goalie Jesse Little (2.14, .927).
Winslow and Presque Isle split regular season games.