That came a year ago for Dane Pauls.
This March is about validation for Falmouth’s senior goaltender.
The Yachtsmen (16-5) are going for a second consecutive Class A hockey championship at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Their opponent will be St. Dominic (13-7-1).
Pauls’ opponent for much of his junior season was himself. He had been a revelation as a freshman, regressed as a sophomore and was an enigma as his third season in net dawned.
“I wouldn’t say I got cocky but I got complacent and my head wasn’t in it,” Pauls said.
“I was way off in my own little world. If I had a bad game, I’d be like a recluse. I’d sit in the corner and not take any advice and shut down. I just never allowed the team to help me.”
Coach Deron Barton sensed Pauls had lost the confidence of his teammates. He was benched in favor of freshman Ryan Bonnvie.
Pauls was hurt but didn’t sulk. He re-entered the net for the final five games of the season as a changed person. His – and his team’s – finest moment came in a 4-0 win over Lewiston for its first state title.
“If a goalie’s going to be successful, he needs to be in the middle of the team; he can’t be on the fringes,” Barton said. “He went from a boy to a man. It was an amazing job as a human being and a teammate. And his performance demonstrated that.”
This year Pauls is one of the captains, a steadying force on a young team with a quest to repeat. He was terrific in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Scarborough in the Western final.
He’ll need to be again against a Saints team that is intent on avenging all its regular-season losses in one inspired swath through the postseason. St. Dom’s lost to Lewiston twice, then vanquished the Blue Devils in the Eastern semifinals. Bangor swept the season series, only to be denied 3-1 by the Saints in the regional final.
Falmouth earned 3-1 and 5-4 victories against St. Dom’s, but that clearly won’t matter Saturday.
“It was awesome to knock off the one- and two-seeded teams,” Saints forward Chase Hainey said.
“We knew we could beat any team. We competed with every team this year.”
St. Dominic represents hockey royalty in Maine. The Saints are seeking an incredible 25th state crown. Every player is drawn there by the history and expectations, said Hainey, who makes the 75-minute trek from Fryeburg to Auburn each day.
“It’s so important to us. We have a chant, ‘strive for 25.’ We’ve been trying to hit that mark all season,” Hainey said. “We come from all over the state just to get to St. Dom’s and it’s taught me so much, and the hockey has been one of my greatest high school experiences. Now we’re one game away.”
Standing in the way will be Pauls, a goaltender humbled by his past but supremely confident in his talent and his teammates.
“Last year when I got sat down, I’d never been put in that position before. It made me mature. I thought back then it was almost like the end of the world,” Pauls said.
“But it really made me tighten my game and focus more on the little things, rebound control, all that stuff. I was somewhat forced to step up and play to the best of my ability.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: