WATERVILLE — A win is a win, but Waterville High School certainly was put to the test on Saturday afternoon.
The Purple Panthers slogged through a sluggish start and bad ice conditions, escaping with a 3-1 over Houlton/Hodgdon/Southern Aroostook/Katahdin in a Class B North boys hockey matinee at Colby College’s Alfond Rink. The unbeaten Purple Panthers (16-0-0) got the state-leading 39th goal of the season from senior center Justin Wentworth and a two-point effort from senior winger Jackson Aldrich in a game mired by poor ice from the lack of an ice resurfacer during either intermission.
The arena’s electric Zamboni was only being used between games on Saturday.
“It was the same for both teams,” said Waterville coach Dennis Martin. “Both teams played on it. That’s how you have to look at it. You have to tip your cap to those guys. We didn’t play our best game, but you can’t take away anything from the opponent. We had some opportunities that we would normally capitalize that we didn’t. It happens.”
Though the visitors were the ones who had to travel nearly 200 miles for the matinee start, Waterville was actually the team that appeared to be fighting bus legs in the opening period. The Purple Panthers racked up 16 shots over the first 15 minutes, but the fluidity that has been a staple of their transition game throughout the season was largely absent.
But, as the second period opened, Waterville looked much more like its old self.
“We weren’t like our normal selves (in the first),” Martin said. “We weren’t really flying, I guess. But you always seem to be feeling out the other team in the first period just to get a feel for things, too.
“We started coming around.”
Just 2:12 into the middle period, Wentworth whacked home the rebound of Chase Wheeler’s drive from the right point. At 9:34, the lead doubled when Aldrich found Roderigue sneaking in from the left point for a top-shelf wrister and a 2-0 lead.
“I don’t know if it was the weather or what, but we were kind of slow today,” Wentworth said. “We haven’t had practice for a couple of days, but we can definitely look forward to skating in the next practice.”
Houlton/Hodgdon responded when Garrett Perkins cashed in on what appeared to be a harmless 2-on-2 over the Panther blue line at the 12:29 mark on just the Blackhawks’ third shot of the period.
Waterville, however, does what Waterville has done so well all season long: it responded.
Thirteen seconds after seeing their lead cut to 2-1, Wentworth streaked across the attacking blue line and centered for Aldrich, who pulled the puck onto his backhand and easily beat goalie Ian Neureuther (43 saves).
“We knew that the puck was slowing down more, so we really wanted to shoot more,” Wentworth said. “We wanted to get it in their zone and shoot it. We wanted to really try to pepper their goalie. The puck wasn’t moving at all, so we wanted to get it in and get to rebounds.”
With ice conditions having rapidly deteriorated by the time the third period rolled around, Houlton/Hodgdon was able to slow Waterville some over the final stanza. By the same token, it kept the Blackhawks from being able to find a quick, up-ice counter strike.
Waterville outshot the Blackhawks by a 3-to-1 margin (46-13) for the game, hitting a couple of posts and just missing on open chances in front. Aldrich, who now has 26 goals on the year, missed two point-blank opportunities with the goalie trapped out of position.
Martin felt that if a few of those near-misses had turned into goals, like they often have this season, the game would have had a much different feel.
“It was more like we were playing on practice ice,” Aldrich said. “It was slower, and we had to adjust to it. We never really got to that adjustment, but we tried to keep playing our game and hope for the best.”
Travis Barrett can be reached at 621-5621 or at: