OAKLAND, Maine — Messalonskee High School of Oakland made its debut in Eastern Maine Class B a year ago after dropping down from Class A and upset the top-seeded Brewer High School Witches 5-2 to win its first ever regional title.
The Eagles lost to Greely of Cumberland Center 6-2 in the state championship game and wound up 18-4.
Messalonskee has lost Eastern Maine Class B Player of the Year and 78-point scorer Sam Dexter; point-producing defenseman Travis St. Pierre (43 points) and stellar goaltender Nate Delgiudice (16 career shutouts). They were all EM Class B first-team picks.
But EM Class B Coach of the Year Mike Latendresse and his Eagles should be one of several teams in the title hunt.
“It’s going to be a very tight league this year,” said Orono coach Greg Hirsch.
Latendresse said Orono and its 12-member senior class is the team to beat.
“They’re very strong, very deep and very old. And Mike Brown is the best goalie in the league,” said Latendresse.
Hirsch said Messalonskee will contend.
“They have to replace Dexter and Delgiudice, but they still have (Chase) Cunningham and they have a good junior class. They’re going to be solid.”
Sophomore Cunningham had 25 goals and 44 assists.
Both coaches expect perennial power Brewer to vie for the title despite the loss of nine players.
“Brewer will be down but they will still have a very good hockey team,” said Hirsch. “Presque Isle is well-balanced and Hampden has impressed a lot of people. They’re very strong and very deep up front. And John Bapst should be better.”
Latendresse said he lost a “tremendous” five-player group “but we have a decent group of freshmen coming in and a pretty good corps returning. The big difference is we won’t be as deep and we’ll be inexperienced in goal.”
He said junior goalie Ben Weeks is capable.
Cunningham, seniors Corey Foye and Nate Nadeau, juniors Josh Towle and Kaleb Bernatchez and sophomore Jake Dexter will be expected to carry the offensive load.
Senior Dominic Dexter and junior Tyler Simpson will be the workhorses on defense.
Hirsch, whose Riots went 8-9-2 last year, feels he has an exceptional goalie and top line with All-EM third-teamer Matt Cloutier centering Old Thool transfers Trevor Francis and Nick Nadeau. Nash Allan-Rahill and Chad Adams will center the second and third lines, respectively.
He also said, “we have four very strong defensemen who can get involved in the offense” in Corey Danielson, Zac Williams and Conor McKaig along with Norwegian exchange student Einar Loktu.
“Our question mark will be can the second and third lines contribute,” said Hirsch.
Brewer, 128-21-5 in its last 154 games and 18-2 a year ago, won state titles in 2007 and 2010
Despite the departures, Shedd said “anyone who faces us will have their hands full.”
Brewer will be led by All-EM second-team center Spencer Valley, All-EM third-team defenseman Brody Valley, steady senior defenseman Jake Caron and senior goalie Patrick Spaulding.
His prolific top line will feature Spencer Valley, sophomore Gabe Valley, Spencer’s cousin and Brody’s brother, and junior Gehrig White. He will have “blue-collar” second and third lines with Andrew Collins and Mike Armstrong centering them.
Josh McNally and Jimmy Donnelly will have more prominent roles on the blue line.
Presque Isle, 12-8 last year, has just two seniors but coach Carl Flynn said, “we have a lot of depth in our junior and sophomore classes. We have a good top line and three solid defensemen.”
Adam Flynn and Alex Michaud will flank Tyler Seeley on the top line and Joseph Patenaude and Ryder Soucy should provide supplemental scoring.
All-EM second-teamer Colin McKay, who is just a sophomore, and Andrew and Mike Michaud (no relation) will anchor the defense corps in front of freshman goalies Jillian Flynn and Oliver Gerrish.
Gene Fadrigon said his John Bapst team, 8-11 a year ago, will be “small and young but respectable.”
The all-senior first line of Seth Yachinin between Jacob Fletcher and Alex LaFrance is a quality one and sophomores Jonathan Cheff and Hunter Pate and freshman Nate Reese should also contribute. Kurt Massey is a top-notch defenseman and Ethan Handley has a ton of experience there. Jaron Leonard is a four-year starter in goal.
Hampden Academy coach Bill Schwarz will employ his Swedish-influenced 2-2-1 forecheck system which sees two forwards play 30-second shifts and two “halfbacks” and a defenseman play 45-to-60-second shifts.
“It’s an offensive-minded system. We’ll give up some two-on-ones and three-on-ones but the kids have fun and that’s the name of the game,” said Schwarz, whose Broncos went 10-9 a year ago. “We’ll be pretty good.”
There is no shortage of quality veteran forwards/halfbacks in Cooper Antone, Matt Closson, Will Manning, Luther Vom Eigen and brothers Mike and Sam Ward. Riley Eastman and Rob Stowe will log a lot of minutes on defense in front of seasoned junior goalie Ryan Manning.
Houlton/Hodgdon went 5-12-1 last season and coach Joel Trickey said “We should be good on defense and in goal and we have kids with potential to score.”
Sophomore goalie Payton Porter is very good, senior defensemen Jimmy Fitzpatrick and Cole McLaughlin are reliable and they have experienced forwards in Brandon Ward, Brandon Malone and Lucas Grant along with Eugene Ivey, Gage Hunt and Alex Donovan.
Lawrence of Fairfield (2-15-1 last year) and Old Town (10-9-1) have new coaches in Ted Fabian and Ryan Bernard, respectively, and Winslow (1-16-1) should be much better thanks to better numbers.