The Old Town-Orono hockey team received a big lift from the return of senior defenseman Cam Tower in Saturday’s 4-1 Class B North semifinal win over Camden Hills of Rockport.
Tower, who had been sidelined since breaking his collarbone against Messalonskee of Oakland on Dec. 27, notched a goal and an assist to help the Black Bears take another step toward defending their Class B state championship.
Top seed Old Town-Orono (14-5) faces the No. 2 Kennebec (Waterville-Winslow) River Hawks (15-4) in the final at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Alfond Arena in Orono.
“It felt great to be back and to be able to contribute after being out for so long. It was nice,” Tower said. “I missed the team. It was hard sitting out and seeing the team struggle at the end like that.”
The Black Bears had lost their last three regular-season games, including a 6-4 setback to Kennebec on Feb. 19. Old Town-Orono had beaten the River Hawks 6-4 on Dec. 22.
Tower was the second Old Town-Orono defenseman to return to the lineup recently after a prolonged absence. Junior Dylan Street was playing in his third game back after being sidelined since Jan. 5 because of an infection stemming from a rare illness called hydrocephalus, an inflammation of the brain that can cause bleeding and swelling.
Street was hospitalized at Boston Children’s Hospital for 2 1/2 weeks.
“I knew Cam would be helpful no matter what percentage he was at [health-wise],” Old Town-Orono first-year head coach Chris Thurlow said. “He exceeded expectations. He’s a strong, steady defenseman with a good head. He’s a smart player and he’s poised. He makes the other players around him better.”
Tower and Thurlow said it is great to have Street back in the Black Bears lineup.
“Dylan has gotten better with each game. His biggest challenge is regaining his hockey legs after being in the hospital,” Thurlow said.
Tower and Street are the most experienced returning defensemen off last year’s team, so their experience and leadership are key components of this year’s team.
Tower said he expected his left collarbone to hurt a little bit, but said he didn’t experience any pain at all. He had practiced with the team for nearly a month before being cleared to play.
Street, who wasn’t cleared to practice until Feb. 14, has been working on his puck-handling.
“I’m slowly getting back in shape. I’m getting back in the swing of things. Regaining your conditioning for hockey is unlike any other sport,” said Street, who underwent a surgical procedure. “It’s great to be back in a team environment with my buddies.”
The River Hawks have four players with 11 or more goals: Nathan Newgard (24 goals), Tommy Tibbetts (16), Brandon Mason (13) and Cody Ivey (11). Newgard had a hat trick in a 6-5 overtime semifinal win over Presque Isle, Tibbetts had two and Zach Menoudarakos (9) scored the game-winner on the power play in overtime.
“They’re a strong team with a lot of speed. We’re going to have to cover those [four] guys,” Tower said.
They also have a top-notch goaltender in Ben Grenier, who had a 2.27 goals-against average and 0.914 save percentage during the regular season and made 24 saves against Presque Isle.
“They had three breakaways when they beat us and scored on two of them,” Thurlow said.
Old Town-Orono has two quality scoring lines with Tanner Evans (12 goals, 15 assists) centering Tyler McCannell (18 & 14) and Gabe Talon (8 & 8) and Sam Henderson (12 & 12) flanked by Trent Lick (8 & 13) and Jackson Campbell (7 & 4), with Zach Needham (6 & 2) also playing shifts on the top two lines.
Street has 3 & 4 in 10 games and Tower has 2 & 4 in five games to pace the defense corps and converted forward Nate Young has 1 & 10.
Senior Kohle Parker (2.31, 0.880) returns in goal after serving a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Freshman Aiden Rand made 14 saves in the win over Camden Hills.