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Maine Gladiators Playing for More Than Another Chipotle-USA Hockey National Title

By Lary Bump, 04/04/24, 11:00AM MDT


Hockey has helped the team heal after a shooting occurred in their community last October.

When the Maine Gladiators take the ice in the 2024 Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 16U National Championships, they will be playing for another championship — and a whole lot more.

The Gladiators came into the season with a goal of replicating the 2022 Chipotle-USA Hockey national championship they won at the 14U level. Most of the players from that team are returning to nationals this year.

However, they were amid an undefeated season when they arrived at the hockey for practice on the evening of October 25, 2023, in Auburn, Maine.

“Everybody was getting ready,” goalie Gabe Pomerleau said. “We were told the rink was getting locked down, so we stayed. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Two state troopers soon escorted the players from the rink.

“Once they were cleared to leave, players and coaches and families said goodbye with extra care and an unexpected level of fear,” Gabe’s mother, Sarah, wrote.

Gabe’s father and coach, Chris, had to leave the rink to serve a different role.  

“Lewiston PD’s Joey Brown, Hayden Brown’s dad from our team, called me and said there was an active shooter in progress,” he said.

Chris had to act in his capacity as volunteer on-call chaplain for the Lewiston police.

In the close-knit cities of Lewiston, Auburn and other neighboring communities, people know each other well.

Connor Morissette was at a soccer game and heard there was a shooting in Lewiston.

“My uncle goes to a cornhole tournament every Wednesday at Schemengees [Bar & Grille],” he said.

Connor found out the next day that his uncle was one of eight who died at Schemengees of gun-shot wounds.

The players readjusted their focus quickly and began practicing again six days later.

“We were back at it by the next Tuesday,” Chris Pomerleau said. “There were questions about people’s mindset, but I don’t think people were afraid.”

The Gladiators were undefeated when they had arrived for the Oct. 25 practice.

“We were clicking,” said coach Pomerleau.

They didn’t stop clicking once they started playing again, as they swept opponents in the state of Maine to reach nationals and complete an undefeated season.

Hockey has always been the thing to do in Lewiston, and it became even more sacred for the team after last fall.

“Just a good hockey community,” Chris said. “It’s always been that way. One of the biggest come-togethers since the shooting has been at the rink.”

The Gladiators have been a tight group for years. Gabe said their chemistry with one another helped spur their title run two years ago.

“We were a team that bonded together, everybody pulling in the same direction,” Gabe said. “We weren’t that skilled. We’re better this year.”

On top of playing better, the team is also playing with the mantra “Lewiston Strong.” They even have stickers with those words on their helmets.

The resilience of the team is displayed by their unrelenting positivity, which Gabe hopes continues in Dallas at nationals.  

“We’ve got to stay positive with the team. If we’re down one (goal), we’ve got so much hockey left,” Gabe said. “We’re always keeping each other up. I love being positive.”

That’s a consistent message that comes from the head coach.

“Bad things are going to happen,” Chris said. “How do you respond to them, how do you overcome, how do you move forward? If we play well and another team beats us, so be it.”

While the team attempts to win another national title, they’ll have a Lewiston police department shirt labeled “MORISSETTE” hanging on the bench to honor Connor Morissette’s late uncle. That will serve as one reminder for the community that they’re representing on a national stage.

“This team is now playing for more than a title for themselves,” Sarah Pomerleau wrote. “They are playing for their home, their state and with a message of resilience and hope.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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