The Maine Moose are comfortable with the idea of playing at the Ice Vault.
The Moose won the program’s first Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Nationals title on the Tier II 16U level two years ago at the so-named facility in Wayne, New Jersey, and are back there again to try to make it two titles in three years.
Maine’s home rink back in Hallowell is also known as the Ice Vault.
“When we went two years ago, we said, ‘We’re going right to the Ice Vault, that’s where we’re going to win it, that’s where it makes sense,’” said Ben Gray, the program’s owner and general manager who continues to coach on the 16U level. “… I’m looking forward to going back there. They do a fantastic job of hosting.”
The Moose are comfortable at USA Hockey Nationals in general.
“We’ve got a great staff from top to bottom,” Gray said. “One of the things we have is that the prestige to get to a national championship is a big deal and we’ve been fortunate that now for the last three years in a row, we’ve been the only team in Maine that has sent a team to nationals at the 14, 16 and 18U levels.
“We’ve been constantly winning and showing the ability to get to national championships. We pride ourselves in our program playing some of the best teams in the country and having these opportunities and we’re fortunate that the kids want to come and be a part of it.”
The Moose have not just played at nationals. They’ve won.
Maine is the defending national champion on the 18U level, which will hold its Tier II championships in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The 14U players from the program collectively will be getting their first nationals experience in Amherst, New York. All three tournaments have the same April 5-9 schedule.
“I think all the teams that we’re sending are pretty good teams,” Gray said. “I think the one to watch will be our 14s because it’s their first trip.
“That group has never been so it will be neat. The 16s are in a different situation where they’ve been a few times. It’s kind of fun to watch over the years of doing this, the first year or even the second year of the shock-and-awe factor of getting to go to nationals is kind of a big deal.”
There are still some nationals newcomers on the 18U roster, but they will have plenty of experienced teammates there to help guide them along with returning championship coach Jeff Ross, who doubles as the program’s skills director.
Gavin Bates, Matt Jolicouer, Cam Wilson and Marc Thibodeau are all trying to win their third straight national championship. Jackson Aldrich is trying for his second straight 18U title. Jayden Wilson and Ryan Kappelmann are seeking their first 18U title after winning 16U championships two years ago.
Jolicouer, Bates, and Jayden Wilson are all defensemen that were part of the unit that allowed just seven goals heading into the final eight minutes of the six-game championship run in 2016.
Bates opened the scoring in last year’s national championship game with a second-period power-play goal in the 3-2 victory over the New Hampshire Avalanche.
Thibodeau had a goal and an assist in the 2016 final win.
The Moose 18U team is spending its last season as a split-season team before both the 18U and 16U join the United States Prospects Hockey League next season.
The Maine Amateur Hockey Association title that was needed to make nationals was captured back in mid-November.
The Moose swept Maine Hockey Academy, 7-0 and 8-1, in the semifinals. Gray Friedman and Nicholas Garneau each scored twice in the first win.
Cole Lockhart scored the winner off a Jolicoeur feed for a 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 of the final series against Casco Bay. Aldrich scored twice in the clinching 5-2 win.
The 16U team made the switch to full-season play this season, making it the only program at that age level to do so in Maine. The Moose won the MEAHA title and national berth in November, then went on to win the Eastern Junior Elite Prospects League title in February.
After Brenden Gasaway stopped 46 of 47 shots in the semifinals, the Moose won the EJEPL title behind two goals each from Joe Clark and Cody Ivey in a 7-5 win over the Red Bank Generals.
Clark was named tournament Most Valuable Player with 14 points in five games.
The Moose went 4-1 over two November weekends to win their fourth straight MEAHA 16U title. They beat the Maine Gladiators, 3-2, in the third and deciding game of the championship series.
The Moose 14U team earned their nationals berth in March with a 3-1 win over the higher-seeded Gladiators in the decisive game of a best-of-three state championship series.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.