HALLOWELL — After allowing just three goals in five games during the state tournament, the Maine Moose U14 ice hockey team feels ready for the national championship tournament.
“We have a lot of depth,” coach Ben Gray said. “All the lines can get up and go.”
On Tuesday, the Moose will head to Hackensack, N.J. for the Tier II Youth 14U National Championship tournament. The Moose open round robin play on Wednesday at 10 a.m. against South Burlington, Vt. On Thursday, the Moose play Littleton (Colo.) Hawks at 10:30 a.m., before finishing round robin play on Friday at noon against a team from Seattle.
If the Moose finish in the top two of their round robin division, they’ll move on to the single elimination portion of the tournament.
All games will be streamed live on fasthockey.com, Gray said.
“I think all the teams are going to be tough,” Gray said.
The Moose went 5-0 to win the state tournament. Goalie Esa Maki played all five games, earning three shutouts. The Moose beat Casco High School, 1-0, in the championship game, with Deryk Belanger scoring the game’s only goal with less than three minutes left.
“In five games we only gave up three goals. You can’t get much more impressive than that,” Gray said.
Co-captain Jeromey Rancourt and Tanner McClure are among the key players in the Moose offense. Co-captain Gavin Bates leads the defense, while Maki will be in net.
The Moose lost just two games in the regular season, fulfilling the promise Gray saw when the team came together last fall.
“When I pieced this team together, I knew we’d have a special team,” Gray said. “It was impressive to watch.”
While the national championship will not be easy, Gray said he likes his team’s chances to go deep in the tournament.
“It’s one of those things, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Gray said. “The nice thing about my team is, they’re not happy with just getting to nationals. They want to win.”
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The Central Maine Youth Hockey Tier III Bantams recently won the Northeast sectional title, with a 4-0 win over New York in the finals.
“Our kids were relentless,” coach Mike Pomerleau said. “Shot after shot after shot.”
Central Maine, was made up players from Waterville, Skowhegan, Winslow, Messalonskee, Monmouth and Winthrop-Maranacook, Pomerleau said. The team went undefeated at the sectional tournament in Plymouth, N.H. Central Maine opened with an 8-0 win over Vermont, before a 7-1 win over Rhode Island. A 5-2 win over one of two Massachusetts teams propelled Central Maine into the semifinals.
Central Maine beat Connecticut, 4-1, in the semis before the win over New York to take the title.
To win the Maine state championship, Central Maine defeated the Junior Pirates of Lewiston, 6-1. Eight Central Maine players returned from the team that was state runner up last season, and that experience helped, Pomerleau said.
“We had our goals set high. This has been a pretty tight group of kids,” Pomerleau said.
The team strength was defense.
“We played defense in layers, everybody protecting the puck,” Pomerleau said. “Everybody relied on each other. It was honestly a group effort.”