The Old Town-Orono Black Bears do not have the firepower they had in recent years, but the defending three-time Class B North champions aren’t going to let that stop them.
“They’re still a tough team like they’ve always been,” said Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn after his team’s 2-1 loss to the Black Bears on Saturday. “They have two stellar goaltenders and even though other teams may have defensemen who are as good as their top defensemen, nobody has the depth on defense that they have.”
The Black Bears allowed just three goals in their first two games, opening with a 4-2 win over John Bapst of Bangor before beating Presque Isle. They are now 77-17-3 over the last four-plus seasons including an 8-1 mark and a regional pod championship last season. Old Town-Orono beat Hampden Academy 2-0 in the pod final.
Last year’s three leading scorers — linemates Tanner Evans, Zach Needham and Carter Walls — are all gone after either graduating or transferring, meaning the Old Town-Orono hockey team will have to rely more heavily on its goaltending and defense if it wants to win another regional crown.
Evans and Needham graduated, and Walls transferred to John Bapst. Colby Pawson, another forward who provided supplemental scoring on the second line, transferred to Messalonskee High School in Oakland.
Fourth-year Old Town-Orono coach Chris Thurlow, who considers himself a defensive-minded coach, said the team has four senior defensemen who all played as freshmen.
Those defensemen are Connor McCannell, Tyler Kenney, Chase Campbell and Peyton Vose. Vastly improved Noah Thibodeau is another senior who had a breakthrough season last year, according to Thurlow.
Sophomore Jackson Lizotte received a lot of valuable ice time a year ago during the COVID-19-induced pod campaign.
Kenney has been battling a knee issue and missed the Presque Isle game but he is expected back soon according to Thurlow.
Their goaltenders, Aidan Rand and Rowen Fremouw, are also seniors with plenty of experience.
Thurlow said he doesn’t have any game-changing forwards or natural goal scorers like Evans and Needham but he does have some talented, hard-working forwards he expects to put the puck in the net like senior Adam Henderson, who has scored three of the team’s six goals so far.
Henderson centers the top line and is an outstanding all-around player. He is flanked on his line by junior Perry Collatos and senior Maddox Sapiel. Collatos is considered “one of the best skaters around” and Sapiel is a tireless high-energy player who is good in all three zones according to Thurlow.
The Davis brothers, senior Jacob and sophomore Dylan, are on a line centered by senior Blaine Murray. Murray has a similar skillset to Sapiel and the Davis brothers are both capable goal scorers with good stick skills.
Junior Ian Bouchard will see time on the top two lines and will also play on the third line with freshman Alex McCannell and senior Brandon Madden.
Connor McCannell, who has an excellent shot from the point and gets it off quickly, and Campbell are offensive-minded defensemen who will provide some point production.
Captains McCannell and Henderson said they expect to be in a lot of close games but feel their team defense will enable them to pull out victories.
“Our goal is to get 40 shots a game and score three or four goals,” McCannell said. “We’re going to have to crash the net and score some dirty goals.”
They are also good on special teams with three power play goals in six chances and a perfect 7 for 7 showing on the penalty kill.
“We work a lot on special teams. Some games, you have more special teams play than five-on-five,” Thurlow said.
They know there is a target on their backs being the defending three-time North champs and 2018 state titleist, but they are ready for the challenge.
Thurlow said there is a lot of parity in B North and any number of teams could win it, with Hampden Academy and Messalonskee headlining a list of contenders that also includes John Bapst, Presque Isle, Camden Hills, Brewer and Gardiner.