Matt Poulin didn’t hesitate when faced with the question: Is this Lewiston boys’ hockey team better than last winter’s?
“I think we are,” the senior forward said. “I’ve never seen a team that’s so close. We have the best opportunity to win state this year.”
Poulin was speaking Monday after his Blue Devils held off Scarborough 4-3, a big boost of confidence for a team that was the Class A runner-up a year ago.
But he said his refrain hasn’t changed since that 4-0 loss to Falmouth in the title game.
“I think about it every day,” Poulin said. “What was going through my head every day was, ‘I’m not letting that happen to us again.’ Not only for myself because that’s selfish, but I’d like to reward all my senior teammates and all the kids that are in the program. I think it’s time for Lewiston to get rewarded with a state championship.”
There’s miles to go before that possibility, of course. But the Blue Devils are sitting at 9-2 with perhaps the best line in the state, led by Kyle Lemelin.
He scored the final two goals to foil the Red Storm, and also assisted on Poulin’s short-handed score to give the Blue Devils the early lead.
“It’s kind of a turning point, I think,” Lemelin said of beating Scarborough. “We need to get the wins to take first place for the playoffs.”
Lemelin hesitated when asked if this version of the Blue Devils is better than the last one.
“I think we’re a different team,” he finally allowed. “I think we’re more of a goal-scoring team this year. We’re learning to pass the puck. We’ve been a strong defensive team but we’re stepping it up in the offensive department.”
Lewiston has made a habit of rallying to victories. It trailed St. Dom’s twice by a pair of goals before pulling out an overtime win. It came from two goals down to beat Edward Little.
And Monday, it controlled much of the game but watched Scarborough tie the score twice in the final period before Lemelin’s final goal with 37 seconds left.
“I’d like us to get better for three periods and not have to do that every time,” Lewiston Coach Jamie Belleau said.
“The first 10 minutes of the second period, we decided not to skate.
“When we skate, we make smarter decisions with the puck, we have more possession of the puck in the areas of the ice we want it. We need to do that better.”
Lewiston lost to Bangor, which will have much to say about who emerges in Eastern Class A, as will surging St. Dominic.
But the Blue Devils are encouraged by the emergence of a young third line (sophomore Kyle Morin scored the other goal against Scarborough) and from steadier play by junior goaltender Nick Hawk.
That combines with an already strong defensive corps that surrendered just 12 shots on goal to the Red Storm.
“This is big because it’s a Scarborough team that’s the best in the west and potentially could be a matchup in the future if we both play our way there,” Poulin said.
“It sends a message, when we compete, what we can do. It’s an exciting thing for us because it builds our confidence. And our confidence is going to go a long way because we have a hard schedule coming up.”
ST. DOMINIC is another Eastern Class A team with high hopes.
The current players were just learning to skate the last time St. Dom’s won a state boys’ hockey championship. But this crop of Saints is well-versed in the storied history of its program, said senior captain Brad Berube. It’s evident in the pregame chant.
“What do we drive for? We drive for 25,” the Saints sing out before taking to the ice.
St. Dom’s has 24 state titles, but the last came back in 2000. There have been three runner-up finishes since then.
“It’s been a couple of years but I think we have the team to do it this year,” Berube said after a four-point performance in a victory over Biddeford last week.
Berube, a center, assisted on his team’s first three goals in that game.
“It’s just seeing that open guy and dishing them the puck,” he said. “A point’s a point, whether you score or get the assist. I’d rather be the passer.”
To get back to the state title game, St. Dom’s (5-3-2) will have to surpass Bangor and Lewiston. Both teams won the first meeting with the Saints but rematches are looming. And the Saints, one of the fastest teams in Maine, believe they’re finding their stride.
“If we put three periods together, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Coach Steve Ouellette said. “We play a swing schedule and it’s pretty heavy. We do that intentionally; it’s all about March.”
IT’S NEVER WISE to count out Greely, even after a 1-5-2 start to the season.
Greely has won two straight, dumping Gorham 2-1 and following that with a 4-1 victory against Leavitt.
A rematch in Gorham is set for Saturday, and a trip to Camden Hills next Wednesday should also be telling. But Greely is getting strong play from goaltender Christian Kroot, who has replaced the injured Kyle Kramlich for the past five games.
The two-time defending Class B champions may be benefiting from their grueling schedule just in time for the second half of the season.
THE TWO BEST GIRLS’ teams are rising to the top with two weeks remaining in the season.
Scarborough (15-0) has clinched the top seed in the West region, and Leavitt/Edward Little (12-2) is close to doing the same in the East. Leavitt has won 11 straight since a 2-1 loss to Scarborough in November.
The Red Devils emerged after beating Lewiston 3-1 and Greely 5-3 in their last two games.
Scarborough, which has enjoyed four straight shutouts, is still working out a makeup date with Leavitt/Edward Little for their game that was stormed out earlier this month.
– Staff Writer Kevin Thomas contributed to this report.
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.