Bangor and Lewiston are firmly entrenched as the top two teams Eastern A hockey. Each holds a comfortable lead in the Heal point standings over their closest pursuers.
From there, as many as five teams are jockeying for position with the hopes of earning a home playoff game.
St. Dominic (6-3-1), Skowhegan (10-1-1), the Maranacook/Hall-Dale/Winthrop co-operative (7-3-1), Cony (7-3-2) and Brunswick (6-5-1) are all in the hunt.
“It’s exciting,” MHW coach Andy Dube said. “It’s playoff-like atmospheres now and we’re still kind of early in the season. We still have six games left. It makes the season more enjoyable when there’s something to fight for every week. It’s pretty crazy because we’re not that far away from being No. 3, but we’re also not far away from dropping to No. 7. The next three or four games will be huge for a lot of us.”
Cony will host MHW on Thursday at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault in a game with plenty of playoff implications. The Hawks and Rams will face off at 8:10 p.m.
Munzing Media will stream the game live. You can watch it at kjonline.com/sports or onlinesentinel.com/sports.
“Thursday is a big game for us,” Dube said. “It’s probably one of the bigger games we’ll have coming up. We’re usually right there with them.”
Cony and MHW met in the Eastern A quarterfinals last season, which Cony won 3-2 in overtime. Earlier this season, Cony beat MHW 7-5 on Dec. 19 at Kents Hill.
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Tommy Small, a Monmouth Academy freshman, turned in another stellar performance to earn his first career shutout in Cony’s 3-0 win over Gray-New Gloucester/Poland on Saturday.
The Rams also continued their run of strong defensive play — they’ve held opponents to three or fewer goals in eight consecutive games.
“One of things we’re doing is taking away the second-shot opportunities,” Cony head coach Chad Foye said. “We’re doing a good job of clearing the puck. Tommy will make that initial save and then we’ll clear it out.”
Defensemen Zach Gagne, Spencer Buck, Chris Murphy and Sean Zubrod are enjoying strong seasons for Cony.
Aaron Manter, Chase Turgeon and Anthony Brunelle have also seen time behind the blue line.
“They’re just working hard,” Foye said.
Gagne missed the game Saturday against the Patriotic Knights with an upper body injury, but Foye said he should return Thursday against MHW.
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Gardiner suffered one of its toughest defeats in recent years Saturday, losing to York 3-2 in overtime.
The Tigers (3-7-1) led 2-0 with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the third period.
“We were dominant,” Gardiner coach Jeff Ross said. “We had carried the play and we’re just playing really, really well. But we just had a few mishaps and they hurt us.”
The Wildcats (6-9-0) scored with 1:16 left and then tied it up about 30 seconds later after each team called a timeout. They won the game with a power-play goal about 30 seconds into overtime.
“Tough,” Ross said. “But it’s all about how you respond. We took the weekend to think about it. If we fold, we’re done. I don’t think we will, though. We had a great practice Monday. The guys were really focused.”
The Tigers next play at Cape Elizabeth (5-7-1) on Thursday.
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Messalonskee faces an interesting week, with games against rival Waterville and defending Class B state champ Greely.
The Eagles (10-1-0) will host the Purple Panthers at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday. Three nights later, Messalonskee will welcome Greely to Sukee in a rematch of the Class B state title game last season.
Greely and Messalonskee will face off at 7:40 p.m. Saturday.
“This is a really big week for us,” Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse said. “If you can’t get up for Waterville then something is wrong. Greely is probably the best team in the West. We know what they are capable of.”
The Rangers (7-4-0) defeated the Eagles 6-2 in the Class B championship game last season.
“The last time we saw them was the state game,” Latendresse said. “It’s a big game for us. When you face a team like Greely, you always have to be ready. We’ll learn something about ourselves. It will be interesting to see where we’re at. It’s a good week for us.”
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Around the state: Camden Hills (10-0-0) is the lone undefeated team in the state, boys or girls. … The Scarborough girls and boys are a combined 24-2-1. Both teams are ranked first in Heal points in their respective conferences. … Camden Hills and Greely (7-4-0) are the only teams in Western B with better-than-.500 records. There are five in Eastern B. … Lewiston (8-2-1) doesn’t have a player ranked in the top 30 of the Class A scoring leaders. MHW’s top line of Dan Condon-Matt Plourde-Jared Hansen has combined to score 82 points in 11 games.
Bill Stewart — 621-5640