alt=”" title=”Falmouth — Lewiston1″ width=”150″ height=”100″ class=”size-thumbnail wp-image-12753″ /> Lewiston’s (#4) Will Nash, is blocked by Falmouth’s (#3) Ethan Low, and goalie (#30) Dane Pauls. (PHOTO: Elena Bujoreanu/File Image)
Tradition-rich schools like Lewiston, St. Dom’s, Biddeford and Waterville have been consistent performers for several years, while teams like Thornton Academy, Edward Little, Scarborough, Bangor, Cheverus and Falmouth poke their noses in every once in a while, ride a great class or two and catch the Maine hockey world’s collective eye.
Do that consistently enough, and they, too, may eventually be considered a “tradition-rich” school.
With the exception of Cheverus and Edward Little on that list, those schools are on their way.
Two of them may meet in a state final.
Eastern Class A should feature one of the better top-to-bottom races it has had in a while, particularly in the middle and for the final playoff positions.
Three usual suspects have dominated preseason discussion as favorites in Eastern A: Bangor, St. Dom’s and Lewiston, though most of the focus has truly been with the first two. Bangor has a team filled with experienced upperclassmen with playoff experience and good hockey sense, and if ever there was a year for the Rams to finally break out of the East, this would be it.
St. Dom’s will have plenty to say about that. The Saints return two of the top goalies in Maine regardless of class, a stable of defenders and a speedy group of forwards, though for the first time in a while, the Saints will also be a larger-than-average team, adding another weapon.
The Blue Devils return a lot of players, but not much true varsity experience. But it is Lewiston, and numbers are good with the Blue Devils. If the team’s goalies have grown as they should have with another year under their belts, the Devils will once again be in the hunt.
Waterville begins its climb back this year, too, and will be among those teams in the middle of the field looking to secure home-ice in the playoffs, alongside MHW (Maranacook/Hall-Dale/Winthrop) and an improving bunch from Cony. Edward Little is a team with a ton of potential among its large and talented freshman class. With a solid crew of returning talent, the Red Eddies will be intriguing to watch, and could be a surprise team come playoff time.
Poland/Gray-New Gloucester took a step forward again last season and will look to continue that trend.
In Western A, Falmouth and Scarborough wear the ‘favorite’ tags. Two-time defending champion Thornton Academy will likely take a step backward this season after severe graduation losses, leaving the door open for the Red Storm and Yachtsmen, who have a good nucleus of talent returning from a year ago.
Biddeford should see a rebound from a year ago and will again be among the teams looking for home ice in the playoffs, while Portland is excited to even be in the league after a late-approved merger with Deering paved the way for the team’s continued existence.
Look for Gorham to be a solid team, though the Rams’ strength of schedule might be a bit light and may hinder them come playoff time.
Boys’ Class B
With only seven teams, Western Class B is a free-for-all from start to finish.
At least, after the favorite.
Greely again returns a strong lineup to the fold and has every reason to believe it can again be the top team in the region, with depth at all three positions and veteran leadership.
Yarmouth has made strides to return to the fold in recent years, as has Cape Elizabeth, which will be on its third coach in three seasons. Gardiner and York should be top contenders, as well, while Camden Hills and Leavitt will have to fight their way in with an upset victory or two. The Hornets return a green goalie with minimal experience, and they lost some firepower from the back end, but also have a solid group of veterans and will make life rough for any team against which they play.
In East B, Orono is back.
Not that the Red Riots really went anywhere, mind you, but they had a long stretch of success several years ago, but had slumped in recent years. This year, the Riots are one group of players expected to have a chance to challenge traditional force Brewer and defending regional champion Messalonskee.
Expect Winslow to be back to its old tricks again, and Presque Isle to be in the conversation, as well.
Things are ripe for a repeat for Greely, which shocked the hockey community a year ago with a state title in girls’ hockey, matching the boys in the same season. The Rangers were fairly young a year ago, and have a consistency level that will serve them well this season.
But it won’t be easy.
Leavitt/Edward Little was in the same boat a year ago, with a wealth of young talent. A new coach and more talent from some younger skaters has made this team a certain contender. Leavitt/EL and Greely played three one-goal games in 2011-12, and have already played a one-goal game this season.
Brunswick, many people’s pick a year ago, will still be in the mix, but will likely be chasing the top two.
Lewiston has a chance to be a spoiler, and perhaps come out of the East, as well. The Blue Devils are similar in makeup to last year’s Red Hornets and Rangers, with a bevy of younger skaters who continue to get better each season.
St. Dom’s begins the season with a heavy heart, but the Saints have shown so far that they can skate with the rest of the teams in the league.
Falmouth, Biddeford and York are consistently the teams to watch in the West, and should be among the better teams again.
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