December 9, 2013

Boys’ hockey preview: It’s getting harder to pick favorites

As the sport continues to grow, more teams than ever have legitimate hopes of postseason success.

By Mark Emmert memmert@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

There may never have been a winter when so many Maine boys’ hockey teams have had this much spring in their skates.

Kyle Kramlich helped Greely win a second straight Class B state championship last winter, and the Rangers are expected to contend again.

2013 Press Herald file/Gordon Chibroski

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If true parity hasn’t arrived for the state’s 42 teams, it’s at least getting close. Squads from Bangor to Biddeford, from Camden Hills to Gorham all have reasons to dream big as the 2013-14 season gets under way.

Coaches are seeing more talent spread across more teams, particularly in the southern part of the state, and that translates into more opportunities for someone new to snatch a title away from the state’s traditional powers.

“It seems the teams are much deeper than they used to be,” Biddeford Coach Rich Reissfelder said. “Twelve or 15 years ago, you were lucky to have enough good players to have two lines. Now, a lot of teams have three.”

Some schools are finding that depth in increasing numbers of young skaters. Greely, winners of back-to-back Class B championships, reported 13 freshmen coming out for the team this year, with three of them expected to make significant contributions.

Camden Hills had a record 32 students take to the ice, meaning it can field a junior varsity squad for the first time in school history.

“The first few years, pretty much whoever tried out made the team,” Camden Hills Coach Karl Enroth said of his 8-year-old program. “Last year, we had 20. We were able to develop them in practice and get them some game time when we could.

“Now we’re starting to get some larger numbers in our class sizes. We used to have two or three (per class); now it’s seven, eight or nine kids in a class size. We’ve just been fortunate that the feeder program has taken root.

“I think you’re starting to see the playing field even out a little bit.”

More hockey players has led to more demand for ice time. Toward that end, a new two-rink facility has opened in Auburn, further evidence of the growth of the sport.

The result for fans should be more chances to see competitive hockey throughout the state. Gone are the days when Lewiston, St. Dominic Academy and Waterville essentially took turns bringing home the hardware each February.

Falmouth broke through a year ago to win its first state title. The Yachtsmen return a strong team but will find plenty of Class A teams ready to dethrone them.

“Whenever you win anything, everyone wants to play hockey, right? That will pay some benefits down the road,” Falmouth Coach Deron Barton said of the growing enthusiasm for the sport in his town.

“But in Class A, I think you’ve got your seven or eight teams every year that are going to contend. We always have to worry about Bangor, Lewiston, St. Dom’s, Thornton Academy, Scarborough and Biddeford.”

Barry Mothes has coached Greely for 20 years, winning Class B championships three of the past five seasons. His program is firmly entrenched as a power, but there is danger at every turn. In addition to having to fend off teams like Camden Hills, Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Messalonskee, the Rangers face additional challenges from Gorham and Kennebunk, two of four schools that have dropped from Class A to B.

“There’s going to be some real battling for playoff seedings that are going to go right down to the wire,” Mothes said of Western Class B, where seven of 10 teams will make it to the postseason.

“We’ve been lucky to have good numbers and very enthusiastic hockey families who were excited about building some success and tradition at Greely. We’ve been lucky to have been able to sustain that. But it never gets easier.”

There’s no such thing as easing into the season, even for the defending champions. Falmouth opens Monday night against Scarborough, a rematch of last year’s Western Class A final.

“The way it is now, even the so-called average team is good enough to beat you,” Scarborough Coach Norm Gagne said. “I think that it’s wide open for any team this year. If they get on a roll and get some confidence, anybody could come out on top.”

That sure sounds like parity.

Mark Emmert can be reached at 791-6424 or at:

memmert@pressherald.com

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH

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