ORONO, Maine — While their team was eliminated in the semifinals of last weekend’s New England District Tier II Peewees Regional at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena, Maine Freeze players Brenden Gasaway and Sean-Austin Soucy felt the weekend had some positive aspects.
The Freeze earned their regional berth by finishing second in the state tournament to Casco Bay of Portland, which also played in the regional and advanced to Sunday’s semis.
The two Maine teams were eliminated by two Connecticut teams, the Wonderland Wizards of Bridgeport and the Darien Wave, in the semifinals.
Soucy, 13, and Gasaway, 11, both enjoyed the experience despite being ousted on one of their home arenas.
“It was 3-2 [in favor of Darien, Conn.] until the last period,” said Soucy. The Wave ended up winning 5-2. The Wizards shut out Casco Bay 4-0 in the first semi before beating Darien 4-2 in the final.
“It was pretty intense,” said Soucy. “It was good competition. There’s no easy hockey out here.”
This district’s regional started with pool play on Friday and Saturday for the eight teams that qualified based on state tournament play. There were two teams each from Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire and one each from Vermont and Rhode Island. No Massachusetts teams were involved because USA Hockey has declared the state to be its own district based on the number of players in the state.
The top two teams in each New England District four-team pool advanced to the semifinals Sunday morning and the winners there played in the final Sunday afternoon.
There are more than a dozen New England District tournaments based on age and gender, and each state hosts between two and four each year. Peewees this season were for boys and girls with birth years of 2000 and 2001.
The Freeze is the travel component of Bangor Youth Hockey, Brewer Youth Hockey and the Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference for Tier II and Tier III (the state’s top two levels) and draws its players from those three organizations. The Freeze practice and play games at each of their arenas — Alfond, Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer and Sawyer Arena in Bangor.
Playing on home ice helped some, according to Gasaway.
“I didn’t think I would be as nervous here instead of at another arena,” he said. “It’s a totally different atmosphere.”
They found that the Connecticut teams had a decided edge on their opponents.
“You can’t skate [with the puck], you’ve gotta move [pass] the puck,” said Soucy.
“It’s a lot faster pace, too,” said Gasaway.
As a goalie, Gasaway had a front-row seat to watch the Connecticut teams at work.
“They set up one-timers all over the place,” he said. “They had a lot of breakaways.”
“They’d always sneak a guy in [to the offense] to have one open,” said Soucy, a defenseman.
The Freeze didn’t make any adjustments to their game plan going into the semifinals.
“We just had to keep playing the way we’ve been playing,” said Soucy. “We’ve been playing good.”
They did have to make some adjustments in personnel because one player had undergone a surgical procedure and was out for the tourney. Another had strep throat and missed the first couple of games.
“We had to switch lines a bit,” said Soucy. “It was OK because in practice we play with everybody.”
One of the bonuses for the Freeze was having the use of the Black Bears’ locker room.
“The Bears left pucks in the locker room with our names and wrote ‘good luck’ on them,” said Soucy.
Gasaway liked some of the other upgrades from their usual changing rooms.
“The lockers are a little bigger,” he said. “And they have air conditioning. We could dry stuff. And the music was pretty loud [a good thing].”
The organization of the tournament also was praised.
“It was pretty smooth,” said Soucy. “Nothing went wrong. They planned it pretty well.”
Carl Larouche, coach of the title-winning Wonderland Wizards of Bridgeport, Conn., agreed with Soucy.
“It was well organized. We had a great time here,” said Larouche, whose Wizards have played in a number of tournaments this year and were 61-4 for the season. “It was very well done.”
Gasaway liked the longer games.
“I like the 15-minute periods,” he said. “Usually, we play 12.”
“It gives you more time to make plays,” said Soucy. “We just had to shorten our shifts [to keep from getting too tired].”
Wizards’ magic bus
The Wizards didn’t find out until the weekend before that they were in the regional, and they decided to take a coach bus.
“We had 18 players with about 25 parents [plus the coaches], so I’d say we had 45 people,” said Larouche on Sunday.
“We came up Thursday night ahead of the storm [that dropped up to 30 inches of snow in parts of Massachusetts],” he added. “We’ve spent the last three days together and it’s been great.”
Age no barrier
Gasaway said he has been playing since he was 6.
“Two teammates got me into it,” he said. “They told me how much fun it was. I started to play, and I liked it.”
Soucy, who started skating at age 2, didn’t have to look any farther than his own home in order to be introduced to the sport.
“My brother played and my dad’s on a men’s team,” he said. “There’s always a game at the house.”
Gasaway turned the tables on his dad.
“He had started me in basketball because that’s what he played,” he said. “I got him to play hockey, too. Now he’s playing on a men’s team.”