WINSLOW — It’s been a few seasons since the Winslow and Waterville hockey teams qualified for postseason play.
The drought ends tonight for the Purple Panthers and Black Raiders.
The Eastern B playoffs begin with a pair of intriguing quarterfinal matchups.
No. 4 Winslow (9-9-0) will host No. 5 John Bapst (9-9-0) at 7 p.m. at Sukee Arena. No. 3 Waterville (10-7-1) will host No. 6 Hampden (8-8-2) at 7:30 p.m. at Colby.
In Eastern A, No. 4 Lawrence/Skowhegan (12-6-0) will host No. 5 Brunswick (10-7-1) at 5 p.m.
The winners advance to the semifinals Saturday at Sukee.
“It’s been a couple years since we’ve been in,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said. “It’s good to be back. We’ve worked hard to get back into the playoffs.”
Forwards Nick Denis and Chris Lee lead a revitalized Waterville offense.
Denis has 21 goals and 11 assists for a team-leading 32 points. Lee is second with 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) while linemate Michael Oliveira has 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists).
“We’ll need to get up on them early,” Martin said.
Waterville will also need another strong performance from goalie Kaleb Kane, who has a 2.38 goals against average.
“He’s been steady all year for us,” Martin said.
The Panthers edged the Broncos 4-2 on Jan. 30. However, it was a 2-2 game heading into the third period.
Hampden features one of the stronger lines in Eastern B with Michael Ward and Matthew Closson. The Broncos enter the playoffs having won just two of their last six games.
“Hampden has a very good top line,” Martin said. “They are a physical team, too. We’ll need to be ready. It should be a good matchup.”
So, too, should be the games at Sukee Arena.
John Bapst edged Winslow 4-3 in a regular season game Dec. 14.
Winslow led that game 2-1 before John Bapst rallied for three goals in the third period to pull out the win.
The Black Raiders come in with a prolific offense, led by Alex Berard. The junior forward leads the team with 17 goals and 12 assists. He scored a goal and two assists against the Crusaders in the regular season.
“It’s a real good matchup,” Winslow first-year coach Andy Dube said. “We’re happy to have the game at home. We’d much rather be at home than having to go up there. They beat us in the regular season so we know we can’t take them lightly. We’re going to have to come out and score some goals early.”
The Crusaders, who are 4-4-0 in their last eight games, feature a strong top line and goalie Sam Lander, who had 36 saves against Winslow in the regular season game.
“We’re evenly matched,” Dube said. “It should be a good game.”
Lawrence/Skowhegan enters the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in Eastern A. The Bandits have won seven of their last eight games. Their season-ending run came after a 5-1 loss to Brunswick on Jan. 25.
“We’re a different team now,” Lawrence/Skowhegan coach Ted Fabian said. “We’re clicking at the right time.”
Chase Nelson leads the Bandits with 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists). Cody Martin has a team-high 25 goals as well.
With the imposing Sam Edmondson in net, the Bandits present a few matchup problems to the Dragons.
“We’ve improved in all aspects of the game,” Fabian said. “I just told the guys that you can’t be emotionally attached. We have to keep our emotions in check. We’re very excited to be in the playoffs but we need to be focused as well.”