HALLOWELL — The Maine Moose junior hockey team plays its first home game in two years tonight when the Moose face the New York Aviators at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault.
The Moose have not fielded a junior team since 2010, when the franchise was sold to Ben Gray. The Moose did, however, continue to field a midget and a bantam team.
This season, the Moose junior team will play an independent schedule, though they are a part of the Northern States Junior Hockey League. They are affiliated with the league, but will not play a regular schedule until next season. The Moose will be unable to qualify for the league playoffs.
“Everything was such a late start, getting back off the ground,” Moose co-owner/general manager Ben Gray said. “We felt it best to be independent, be able to have the flexibility to play whoever we want, and go full bore into next season in the Northern States Junior Hockey League.”
The league consists of seven teams from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.
The Moose will play at the Ice Vault, which was built on the grounds of the Kennebec Ice Arena, and Gray thinks it will be a valuable recruiting tool in the future.
“We have custom locker rooms in there just for the Moose team,” Gray said. “We have offices there now. Everything is right there, brand new, it’s state-of-the-art.”
Lewiston native and former Lewiston Maineiacs assistant coach Jeff Guay will coach the Moose junior team.
“For me to get back into it is good,” Guay said. “It’s always been a part of my life, my No. 1 love. It’s been fun and exciting so far.”
The team has a mix of both American and foreign players. Seven players are from the central Maine area, including Austin Davis, Dakota Bowie, Dallas Clark and Spencer Buck of Augusta, James Varney of Oakland, Kyle Carrier of Madison and Garrett Benson of Gardiner.
The Moose are young. Guay said as many as eight players on the roster are 16-years-old. He said they’ll spend a lot of time breaking down film to help the young players improve.
“We’re very young,” Guay said. “In the Quebec league, you’d usually have two or three 16-year olds. We have eight or nine, there’s a big difference there. We’re still learning a lot.”
The Moose opened the season on the road and are 1-4-0. Varney (1 goal, 3 assists) and Russian-born player Malkhazi Kintsurashvili (3 goals, 1 assist) lead the team in points with four heading into tonight’s game. Clark has three points (1 goal, 2 assists) and Benson has two goals.
Guay is also high on Blake Sauter, a forward from Orlando, Fla., as well as Jarrett Ross, a goalie from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“(Sauter’s) very good with the puck down low,” Guay said. “He’s a tall kid, he’s got really good hands.”
Guay said his main focus this season is to develop the team over the season, especially the local players, who may be behind a couple of years in terms of the speed and knowledge of the junior hockey game.
“For me, it’s just to develop them, and teach them the game with or without the puck,” Guay said. “Just trying to teach, every single day.”
For now, however, Gray is just happy to have the team back on the ice.
“It’s definitely huge, that was always the goal, to get the program back up and going” Gray said. “Now with a brand new facility, there’s a lot of good things in the works. It’s a work in progress, there’s huge changes from this year to next year. It’s a big step.”
Dave Dyer — 621-5639