The South Portland boys’ hockey team has 11 skaters and nine victories.
It’s enough to make Coach Joe Robinson scratch his head and wonder: How did we get here?
“I’m proud of the guys this year, what we’ve done,” Robinson said. “I’m proud of my coaching staff and the things we’ve done to keep them going.”
The road to a 9-5 record started with a handful of players falling by the wayside after the first two days of dryland training. Another quit after the first couple of games to focus on academics.
That meant Robinson has just two forward lines, two defensive pairings and two goaltenders.
Robinson said he didn’t feel his preseason workouts were particularly arduous.
“A lot of high school athletes don’t realize that where you grow is outside of the rink. The games inside the rink, that’s where you showcase what you’ve worked on,” he said.
Fortunately for Robinson, one of his lines includes junior Andrew Whipple, who has 43 points and sets the tone as the team captain.
“He’s a very, very unselfish player. There’s so many times where he could have taken the shot himself but he dishes it off to a teammate,” Robinson said. “Sometimes that teammate might be a freshman and I’m wishing he would have just taken the shot. But it’s paid off.”
Whipple is joined on his line by junior Kyle Halvorsen. Goaltender Shannon Tully is also a junior.
Those returning players, plus some solid participation at the middle school level, have Robinson optimistic about the future for the Red Riots. They have missed the playoffs the past two years, winning two games each season as a Tier 1 team in Western Class A.
Now in Tier 2, they are sitting eighth in the Heal points standings; the top nine make the postseason.
“We really want to just get into the tournament and see what happens,” Robinson said.
“It would mean a lot. The kids are feeling really good, they’re excited. We have four games left and a realistic goal there would be to split. That would make us 11-7, which would be great. That’s a huge improvement from the last couple of years.”
NOBLE-WELLS is another Tier 2 team that can relate to trying to excel with a small roster. Coach Keith St. Cyr has 17 players, although four are goaltenders. The advantage he has is it’s a pretty experienced group and can draw on the memory of winning the first playoff game in program history last winter.
The Knights are 12-3, led by 26 goals from Dean Pratt. They currently project as the fifth seed in the state tournament, though, and that would mean drawing a Tier 1 team in the playoff opener.
“That definitely ups the ante for us,” St. Cyr said. “Any Tier 1 team is going to be tough for us. After our first (playoff) victory last year, we drew Scarborough and boy oh boy, we didn’t see competition like that all season. For our team to play a team like that, your margin of error is very slim.”
Noble-Wells did get a confidence-boosting victory over York on Jan. 29, finding a way to win 9-6 despite twice trailing by three goals.
“It kind of helped them to see who they were, to see that they can come back from adversity,” St. Cyr said.
Still, he’s realistic about the postseason.
“All our teams have good talent but I can’t compete with someone who can throw three lines at us,” St. Cyr said. “We’ll accept making the playoffs as winning a state championship, and anything above that is a bonus.
“We’re playing against teams that cut more kids than I had try out.”
YARMOUTH IS a young team trying to be a wild card in the Western Class B playoff race. Greely, Gorham, Camden Hills and Kennebunk are huge hurdles, of course, but Clippers Coach David St. Pierre is hopeful his players can figure some things out in the final few games and still be a factor.
Yarmouth is 7-5-1 with a game Wednesday against Greely.
“We’re learning as we go,” St. Pierre said. “We have guys that have started to figure some things out and have started to show some strength. And we have guys that are still working toward that. I think we’re in a good place. I don’t know that we’re ready yet to make a run but we’ve got a little bit of time in front of us and definitely some stuff to work on.”
That work needs to address all facets of the game, St. Pierre said of his team, which features just three seniors.
“In the defensive zone, breaking the puck out. We’ve gotten a little bit better; we’ve got to get a lot better there,” St. Pierre said. “Our power play was on fire there for a while but it’s kind of tailed off, so that’s got to get stronger. And our compete level right out of the gate’s got to be the No. 1 priority.”
THE REGIONAL TITLE games for girls’ hockey are Wednesday at the Portland Ice Arena, with both top seeds hoping to keep their domination over the No. 2s
In the East game at 5 p.m., No. 1 Leavitt/Edward Little (16-3) takes on No. 2 Lewiston (14-4-1). The Red Hornets are 2-0 against Lewiston this season.
And West No. 1 Scarborough (19-0) has obviously not lost to No. 2 Falmouth (14-5) because the Red Storm have not been defeated this season. Two of their wins are against Falmouth. Their game is at 7 p.m.
The winners meet in Saturday’s state championship game in Lewiston.
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or [email protected]