Despite just two practices in preparation for the USA Hockey 18-Under Tier II 1A National Championships, Lewiston (Maine) defeated the Delaware Ducks for its first-ever national title.
With a team made up of high school players from around the Lewiston area, the team played 20 games prior to the high school season from August to November. However, with only two weeks between the high school hockey season and the National Championships, the Lewiston squad took to the ice just twice as a group prior to tournament play.
However, Andy Guerin, the team’s assistant coach and president of the Lewiston Youth Hockey Association, thought there might have been some benefit to the way the team prepared for nationals.
“I think one of the assets was, from all the schools they came from, none of them won their state title,” Guerin said. “They were still hungry for some sort of title before they moved on to college. So I think that gave them a lot of ambition to go forward.”
Despite the added ambition, Lewiston found itself trailing the Ducks early.
Delaware struck first, scoring 3:11 into the game when John Charles Branaccio put the puck past Lewiston netminder Cameron Poussard.
“I think some of our kids were a little nervous to start,” Guerin said. “We had done the same thing the night prior [giving up the game’s first goal], so the kids weren’t worried about being down by a goal.”
Lewiston’s bench didn’t have much time to worry as Alexander Berry tied the game just 13 seconds later.
Lewiston was able to grab the 2-1 lead with 2:34 to play in the period on Alexander Doumeng’s unassisted tally. Guerin thought that Doumeng’s goal, which came after the defenseman collected the puck at his own blue line, streaked down the right side and wired a shot past Delaware netminder Robert Brocky. That might have been the turning point in the game.
“At that point, we felt we could skate with [Delaware] and beat this team,” Guerin said.
Lewiston kept the pressure on in the second period as Drake Hart scored a power-play goal just 36 seconds into the stanza to extend the lead to 3-1. Lewiston also did a good job defensively throughout the hotly contested middle frame, allowing just six shots on goal to maintain the two-goal advantage heading into the third.
Jonathan Hearn put some distance between Lewiston and Delaware when he scored 6:51 into the final period. The Ducks cut the deficit to two goals when Keegan Hinson scored with 2:41 to play. However, with 43 seconds remaining in regulation Ryan Lemlin added an empty-net goal to make it 5-2 and kill any hopes of a Delaware rally.
Guerin felt that several players on the team really stepped up their game throughout the tournament, but that Poussard, who was not in net for the semifinal, really came through for his team in the final.
“We changed our goaltenders going into the championship game,” Guerin said, citing Poussard’s previous big-game experience in tournaments in the past as the reason he got the nod. “[Poussard] came up with a couple of big saves for us.”
Not only is the win exciting for the current players, but also for the future of a Lewiston Midget program, which was on a hiatus until just four years ago.
As the president of the Lewiston Youth Hockey Association, Guerin is looking forward to what the national title could mean for his organization.
“We’re having tryouts for next season and I’ve already gotten emails and calls,” he said. “I think [winning the championship] is really going to strengthen our numbers at that level.”
The first national title for Lewiston also sets new goals for the younger hockey players in the area.
“At the youth level it gives those kids something to strive for,” Guerin said.
While one wouldn’t fault the Lewiston players for resting on their laurels, it doesn’t sound like that’s going to be the case with this group.
“They were very excited,” Guerin said. “We beat the best teams in the country and they were already talking about next year.”
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Tag(s): 18 & Under