After both York and Biddeford faced Thornton Academy in a couple exhibition hockey games a week ago, the assessment was similar:

The Trojans are strong.

“Their depth,” emphasized York Coach Michael Vessey. “They just come with wave after wave (of capable players).”

Biddeford Coach Rich Reissfelder saw “A standard TA team – skilled and gifted … Very deep. Fast. Good puck guys.”

Even Trojans senior co-captain Sam Canales admits that “I’m real excited.”

But Canales is quick to place an asterisk on his remarks. He knows Thornton Academy has been a favorite before.

“Last couple of years, I think we’ve had teams that expected to be good,” Canales said.

Or, as friend and fellow co-captain Jon Pate put it: “We’ve had really good teams. But they haven’t always played as well together. Good on paper, but haven’t produced.”

Yes, Thornton has had some good teams – but the playoffs have been disappointing.

In 2008, fifth-seed Thornton was upset by No. 12 Scarborough in the preliminaries.

In 2009, No. 2 Thornton lost in the quarterfinals, in four overtimes, to No. 10 Kennebunk.

The 2010 Trojans team was also seeded second in the Western Class A playoffs, and this Thornton team did reach the regional final. The only disappointment came in losing to No. 1 seed, rival and eventual state champion Biddeford 3-0 in the Western A final.

In 2011, Thornton looks strong again. Biddeford again appears to be the hurdle in the West, while the East features powerhouse Lewiston.

And Lewiston is powerful. The Blue Devils are early favorites for the state title, especially after beating Thornton 5-0 Saturday night.

Despite the shutout, the Trojans figure to get in sync offensively.

“We have the majority of our gunners back,” Thornton Coach Shawn Rousseau said last week. “I like the way we’re lining up right now.”

Rousseau especially likes the tandem of Pate and Canales, who team with junior CJ Maksut for Thornton’s top line.

Pate and Canales have played together in youth hockey, middle school and now four seasons at Thornton.

“Jon is probably the smartest kid on the team,” Canales said. “He’s always in the right spot.”

Pate returned the compliment. “Sam is the first guy in the zone. He takes the body and gets the puck. He’ll get the puck to you wherever you are.”

And then there is Maksut, “probably the best skilled player on the team,” Canales said. “He’s quick. Speed is probably our line’s strength. We can transition fast.”

Other forwards, including Seth Prior, Andrew Carignan, Nick Chen and Greg Lodge, make Thornton deep.

On defense, the Trojans return most of their personnel, led by Ryan Locke, Dakota Matthews, Brandon Veilleux and Tyler Danley. Brett Levasseur is moving from forward to defense.

The Trojans have to replace graduated Rich Hebb, an all-state goalie. Rousseau thinks his backup, Jamison Finch, is ready to move up.

“Everyone is expecting that we will have a huge void there,” Rousseau said. “But (Finch) is a senior and he is hungry. And he looks very, very good.”

So maybe the Trojans got off to a rough start against a very good Lewiston team. It simply serves as a reminder that talented Thornton still has work to do.

But co-captains Canales and Pate believe this team has the work ethic to improve.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

[email protected]