LEWISTON — There was an extra crackle in every stride, and an extra zip on each pass Monday as the St. Dominic Academy and Lewiston High School hockey teams went over, one final time, game plans and drills in preparation for Tuesday’s Eastern Class A regional final at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
For the third instance this season, sixth in the past two and well beyond the 200th time in the teams’ glorious histories, the biggest and most storied hockey rivalry in Maine — and perhaps in New England — will once again take center stage Tuesday night as the squads grapple to decide which of them will play for a state title.
St. Dom’s has more of those in its history, with 24 to its credit. But none since 2000.
Lewiston and Waterville share second on the official all-time list with 20. But none for the Blue Devils since 2002.
Both teams, and their coaches, know what’s at stake. And both are saying the right things as the big game approaches.
“They’re fast, they have a lot of tradition, they have a lot of players who work very hard,” Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau said. “They’re very strong offensively and their goaltending this year has been solid. They’ve done well, and we all know we have to be ready.”
“It’s going to take a lot of discipline and a lot of good execution of the systems we want to play,” St. Dom’s coach Steve Ouellette said. “We know we can’t make a lot of mistakes, and if we do make a mistake, we have to hope it’s a minor mistake, and not one they can capitalize on.”
At 15-1-2, Lewiston won Eastern A going away. The Devils included a pair of victories over St. Dom’s in that run, as well as ties with Western Maine top-four teams Biddeford, which went unbeaten, and Falmouth. They ran up tremendous goal totals, and allowed the fewest in Maine, regardless of class, thanks to senior all-state goalie Cam Poussard and his nine shutouts. They also spread the wealth, well beyond their highly-touted top trio.
“They’re a grinding team,” Ouellette said. “Even though everyone knows they have that top line that can do a lot of damage, they have two other solid lines that they can roll out there and just grind it out with you, and get a goal or two here and there. They work hard and they have a lot of intensity. They’re pretty well balanced, and that makes them tougher to defend.”
St. Dom’s earned 12 wins this season, tied for the most the team has put up in five seasons. Usually a slow-starting squad with a strong finish, St. Dom’s maintained a level of consistency throughout the season, posting a tie with Biddeford, as well, in addition to wins over Western semifinalist Thornton and top-four Falmouth. Their talent is spread wide, with three complete attacking lines.
“They’d probably like me to say they’re a changed team since the last time we played them, but they’re a good team, period,” Belleau said. “We shouldn’t for a second think they’re not going to be ready for this game. They have been, they are and they’ll continue to be one of the best teams in the state.”
Perhaps adding the largest dose of fuel to the ever-burning fire between the two teams is the result hanging over both sides from last season. After a 15-win campaign, Lewiston sat out the first round of the playoffs as an automatic semifinalist. After the Saints pounded Edward Little, they steamrolled right through Lewiston, too, knocking the top-seeded Devils out of the playoffs with no wins. Lewiston had won both regular-season meetings that year, as well.
“We don’t want to overemphasize the loss to them last year,” Belleau said. “The fact that we got eliminated by them last year, and the fact that we’re seeing them again this year, obviously the players are going to make that connection. But we’re playing St. Dom’s for a regional championship. We know how good they are, and what they bring to the table, and it shouldn’t be too hard for the players to get motivated from that alone. Last year shouldn’t be the only motivating factor at this point.”
Same for the Saints, who improved from the No. 4 seed to the No. 2 seed in the past season. This time around, the team — also essentially the same group of players who defeated Lewiston last season — is much more experienced.
“When you look at Lewiston and all the seniors they have, they came into the season with a lot of guys who were battle tested, who’d been in and contributed in bigger games,” Ouellette said. “I think we started the season with a handful of guys who could say that, but I think playing this season the way we did, we have a lot of guys now who we can say we relied on in key moments. That’s where we’ve evolved the most.”
There will be no bigger moment for most of these players than Tuesday night.
Copyright (c) 2011, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
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