There are a number of teams ready to challenge two-time defending champ Old Town-Orono for the Class B North hockey championship.
“But Old Town-Orono is still the team to beat,” said Hampden Academy coach Eric MacDonald, whose Broncos are among the top threats to the Coyotes.
Old Town-Orono, the 2019 state runner-up and 2018 champion, graduated only three players, but one was Class B North third-team defenseman Cam Tower.
“We’re going to be young on defense and in goal, but our forwards are moving the puck better than they have in a few years, and they’re hungry to do well,” Coyotes coach Chris Thurlow said.
Senior Tyler McCannell, a Class B North third-team pick with 19 goals and 14 assists, has been their leading goal scorer the past two seasons. Junior captain Tanner Evans (12 goals, 15 assists), an honorable mention, also is back.
Seniors Sam Henderson (12 & 12) and Gabe Talon (8 & 9) are coming off strong seasons, and productive veterans Zach Needham, a junior all-rookie choice, and senior Jackson Campbell, are on the top two lines.
Senior Dylan Street, who missed 2 1/2 weeks last season with an infection, and converted forward Nate Young, will anchor the defense with a host of promising sophomores. Sophomore Aiden Rand, who won a playoff game, is the starting goalie.
“Old Town-Orono is still No. 1 until someone proves they’re not,” Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn said.
Flynn expects his Wildcats to be among the teams trying to dethrone Old Town-Orono along with Hampden Academy, Camden Hills and Kennebec (Waterville-Winslow).
Cony/Monmouth/Hall-Dale went 6-12 in Class A North last season, while Gardiner (7-10-1) and Maranacook of Readfield (2-16) played in Class B South. Maranacook’s coop team also includes players from Winthrop, Madison, Spruce Mountain of Jay and Lawrence of Fairfield.
The former Skowhegan-Lawrence coop program is not fielding a team this season.
Thurlow said Hampden Academy headlines the list of title challengers.
“They bring back their entire roster, and their goalie [Cooper Ryan] went away and came back. He’s a really solid goalie. [Center] Cooper Leland is one of the league’s best players,” Thurlow said.
MacDonald said this is his largest (28 players) and deepest team in his five seasons. Leland is a two-time, first-team All-Class B North selection and Ryan, a junior who played Junior hockey last winter, was an all-star two years ago.
The dynamic Leland has averaged nearly two points a game in his career for the Broncos, which graduated just three players. Top-notch forward Sam Economy, who broke his ankle midway through last season, is healthy and is centering the second line.
Sophomores Khaleb Hale, an all-rookie selection, and Owen Cross are Leland’s linemates. Sophomore John Vickery and junior Michael Delehanty will flank Economy, and the Broncos have a capable and seasoned defense corps headlined by all-rookie pick Cam Henderson and senior Noah Dancoes.
Flynn said his Presque Isle team has a similar level of experience to that of Old Town-Orono.
“We’ll have lots of offensive punch. But we’re young on defense, and our goaltending is unproven,” Flynn said.
Sophomore Connor Demerchant and linemates Gage Letourneau and 2018 all-rookie selection Colby Carlisle all will eclipse 100 career points this season, according to Flynn.
“Presque Isle returns a really good line including [Connor] Demerchant and [Gage] LeTourneau,” Thurlow said.
A second line with a lot of scoring potential includes sophomore Jonah Roy, senior Colby Bonville and sophomore honorable mention Quinn Demerchant, Connor’s brother. Junior Noah Roy and senior Carter Jackson head the defense with sophomore Caleb Levesque.
Cam Levasseur will give PI a big lift when he returns in January from a broken collarbone.
Flynn is looking for more consistency in goal from junior Brandon Poitras and senior Bryce Bonville, Colby’s brother, also will contend for playing time.
“And Kennebec brings back all of their forwards including [Cody] Ivey and [Nathan] Newgard,” Thurlow said.
Newgard was a second-team all-conference pick last winter.
Camden Hills returns second-team defenseman Andrew Orne and has an exceptional forward in Charles Griebel. Houlton-Hodgdon and John Bapst of Bangor each has a new coach with all-conference goalies and Brewer features an excellent goalie.
Former Houlton-Hodgdon coach Joel Trickey returns to that position and has a 2018 all-conference, third-team goalie in Elijah Matheson. He also inherits a first-team defenseman in Jason Collett.
Loukas Collatos was a second-teamer last season and is one of six goalies at John Bapst under new coach Devin Fitzpatrick.
Tyler St. Lawrence kept the Brewer Witches in games a year ago with his play between the pipes. Brewer is playing in memory of Jordan Parkhurst, a senior defenseman who died recently in a car crash.
Kennebec will have to replace B North first-team goalie Ben Grenier.