BANGOR — Bangor High School junior goaltender Chris Howat answered the call when he was 5 years old.
“I was playing Mighty Mites and we needed a goalie,” recalled Howat. “They stuck me in net. I did well and I started to like it.”
He has been between the pipes ever since and he will look to build on his impressive 18-save performance in Tuesday’s 5-0 Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinal win over Gray-New Gloucester/Poland when the sixth-seeded Rams, 11-8, face 13-4-2 St. Dominic of Auburn in the semifinals at The Colisee in Lewiston on Saturday at 6.
The Saints are the second seed.
In the other semifinal, which will follow the Bangor-St. Dom’s game, top seed Lewiston, 15-1-2, will take on No. 4 Waterville, 9-9-1.
Howat knows he will have his hands full with a quick, offensive-minded St. Dom’s team but he said he’ll be ready.
“I feel really confident. I’ve been tracking the puck very well and the team has helped me out a lot more than they did earlier this year. That’s been crucial,” said Howat. “Things are coming together. I’m starting to play a lot better.”
He said he has worked on being “more aggressive on my angles, tracking the puck and (improving) my hand-eye coordination.”
The 6-foot-3 Howat has earned the confidence of his teammates with his recent play.
“From the start of the season until now, I’m a lot more comfortable with him,” said Ram senior defenseman and co-captain Adam King. “He has gotten a lot of practice, especially when it comes to (controlling) his rebounds. He has started to pull those in and we’re doing a better job clearing the front of the net.”
“We need to be firing on all eight pistons (to be successful) and he’s the biggest piston of those eight,” said Bangor junior defenseman Nic Cota. “He stood on his head Tuesday. I think they had seven shots in the first four minutes. They peppered him.”
“He has been playing very well,” said Bangor first-year coach Denis Collins. “He’s a big kid and has gotten better and better as time has gone on. He’s a hard worker and he’s more prepared.”
Bangor prepared for the speedy Saints by scrimmaging undefeated Class B rival Brewer on Thursday.
“This will be a great tune-up,” said Cota.
Howat began last season sharing the goaltending with Zach Hamilton but when Hamilton left the team, Howat took over and went on to win nine games and post a 2.29 goals-against average.
Howat and the Rams have been up-and-down after losing five of last year’s top six scorers but they have now won four of their last five games.
Bangor lost its two meetings with St. Dom’s, 4-1 and 4-2, but they feel they can pull off the upset.
“We’re playing our best hockey right now,” said Cota. “If we bring our best game, we can beat them.”
“They’re fast and they really attack the net,” said Howat. “They like to get the puck to the back door. I’m going to have to anticipate (the back-door passes) and be aware of my surroundings.”
Collins said the Saints like to have two players cycling on the weak side (away from the puck) in the offensive zone, waiting for a cross-ice pass.
“They do it very well,” said Collins.
“We’re going to have to put the body on them and put the puck in the net,” said King.
Bangor is led offensively by Phil Frost (16 goals, 9 assists), Cota (6 & 13), Zach Papsadora (9 & 9), Connor Griffin (8 & 7), Adam Toth-Javor (9 & 6), Zeb Tuell (4 & 9) and Tom Bearor (6 & 7). King (5 & 8) and converted forward Cota anchor the defense corps.
The Saints feature Travis Roy Award finalist Alex Parker (19 & 19), Dakota Keene (16 & 13), Spencer Martin (10 & 8), Kyle Holtet (6 & 11), Cody Rodrigue (12 & 5) and Danny Nadeau (10 & 7) along with defensemen Will Desmarais (1 & 8) and Dylan Rodrigue (3 & 6) and goalie Austin Christopher (9-2, 1.84 goals-against average, .910 save percentage).