Kennebunk Coach Sean Smith has spent the season raising expectations for his young boys’ hockey team.
As the season dawned, he was hoping for a fourth or fifth seed in the Western Class B playoffs. But after Kennebunk posted a record of 7-3-1 before Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Cape Elizabeth, Smith decided to aim higher.
“Our team goal has changed – we want to win the West, get the one or two seed so we don’t have to go anywhere in the playoffs,” Smith said.
“I think it’s attainable. We do have the players and the ability to make it happen. They have to show up and compete every night. They have to harness in those games where we play well and find out how to perform like that every single night. That’s been our biggest problem – consistency.”
The Rams are fifth in the Heal point standings, but have a big game Saturday at Gorham. They opened eyes with wins over Greely and Cape Elizabeth, and have played close games with Class A Biddeford.
But there have been rough lessons along the way.
“We got put in our place, too,” Smith said. “We had a big win against York, 9-1, and then a week later falling to them, 3-2. They showed up at that game looking past York. They were looking at 8-2-1 instead and they were focused on that before they even played that game. It was a good learning experience for them and it’s going to make us better in the long run.”
The Rams have a large contingent of sophomores led by seniors such as Bryce Fraser. Smith praised his team’s unselfish nature and said junior goaltender Michael LeBlanc has been vital to its success.
“He’s been such a backbone to this team. Every night he’s made big stops in big situations,” Smith said. “He’s the reason for our success. He’s our most improved player from last season.”
BANGOR IS in the thick of the Eastern Class A race, sitting at 7-1. But the next couple of weeks will be spent sizing itself up against West competition, with games against Falmouth, Scarborough and Thornton Academy.
Coach Quinn Paradis said his team’s strong start is a testament to experience – 16 juniors and seniors dot the roster – along with strong defense and balanced scoring. The Rams rely on no offensive superstar but all three lines are contributing. And senior goaltender Rye Powell, with four senior defensemen in front of him, has been stellar.
“We’ve got a blue-collar offense that grinds it out in the corners and plays tough hockey,” Paradis said. “We’re well-disciplined. We’ve done a good job of staying out of the penalty box. And it’s a really strong older class of defensemen. They’ve been there a while and know the expectations, and how to win.”
Bangor has defeated top rivals Lewiston and St. Dominic already. The rematches are the final two games of the regular season.
“We’ve got to like that,” Paradis said. “You know where you stand going into the playoffs.”
FALMOUTH WILL GET a look at Bangor twice in the next week.
And, frankly, the defending Class A champion is thrilled to be playing anybody after a long layoff that has seen its record stuck at 6-4 for what seems like forever.
The reason has been three snowouts, including both Bangor meetings, midterm examinations and a weekend tournament in Boston.
But that tournament was beneficial for the Yachtsmen, Coach Deron Barton said, despite a pair of close losses against Massachusetts behemoths Barnstable and Weymouth.
“We learned that we can play a high-tempo, physical hockey game and stay out of the penalty box,” Barton said after his team drew four penalties in the two games. “Some of our underclassmen stepped up and made plays they hadn’t made all season.
“You’ve got forwards who were not taking the body and separating the man from the puck because they were intimidated. They’re consistently doing that now. They’re winning the 50/50 battles. Instead of just shooting the puck on net, they’re shooting to score, shooting for corners and going for the rebounds. They’re shaking that stigma of being a rookie. They realize they can have an impact on the game.”
Falmouth has six games in its next 11 days, starting with a trip Wednesday to St. Dom’s.
The time off has allowed his team to get healthy, Barton said.
Now the Yachtsmen are prepared for the push to the end of the season, and a chance to defend their title.
“We’ll be ready to play every shift,” Barton said, “and then the hockey gods will take it from there.”
IN GIRLS’ HOCKEY, the playoff field is almost set, with five teams in the East (Leavitt/Edward Little, Lewiston, Greely, Yarmouth/Freeport and Mt. Ararat) and six in the West (Scarborough, Freeport, Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete, Biddeford, York and Cheverus).
Cheverus can guarantee itself a playoff bid with a win at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against Gorham/Bonny Eagle at the Portland Ice Arena.
– Staff Writer Kevin Thomas contributed to this report.
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or [email protected]