WATERVILLE — The call came on Line 2, and nobody from Old Town/Orono answered.
Long before Tuesday’s chaotic five-goals-in-nine-minutes stretch marked a wild third period, the Purple Panthers relied on their depth to get them through some trying times en route to a 6-5 overtime victory in the Class B North championship game at Alfond Arena in Orono.
Freshman center Zack Menoudarakos had a goal and an assist in the win, including a second-period score that finally ebbed some of Old Town/Orono’s building momentum. Left wing Cooper Hart added a tying goal early in the third, and right wing Cody Pellerin had two good scoring chances in the game. The trio has provided Waterville plenty of capable depth at a time when it needs it most — heading into the Class B state championship game Saturday.
It’s a second line for Waterville (19-1-0) that’s playing more like a first line at times during the team’s playoff run.
“For a while, it was ‘just don’t mess up and give the first line a break,'” Menoudarakos said Wednesday afternoon after practice. “But now I feel like we’ve balanced that out a bit and gotten some equal scoring. One night if the first line’s not getting it going, and vice versa, we’ve got to pick each other up. We’re just one big family, so we’ve got to cover each other’s backs.”
Menoudarakos might be the most pleasant surprise for Waterville this season. He could also accurately be labeled the team’s only surprise. As the only freshman on the team, he broke preseason as part of a little-used third line.
Seven games in, Menoudarakos was bumped up to the pivot spot on the second line between Pellerin and Hart. John Evans also slots in in place of Hart during games.
“It was a little difficult being the only freshman. Having to learn everything by myself, I didn’t have anyone else going through the same thing as me,” said Menoudarakos, who scored his 10th goal of the season on Tuesday and is seventh on the team in scoring. “But the guys were really good about it. They’ve taken me under their wing, and I’ve been really appreciative of it. They’ve really been good role models for me.”
Waterville head coach Dennis Martin credits Pellerin, a junior, with making the rookie’s transition easier. Pellerin has 10-22-32 totals, ranking fifth on the team in scoring.
“Cody’s brought their line together. He’s been the (glue) for them,” Martin said. “Zach’s not afraid. He’s a good-sized kid out there, and he’s not afraid to use his body. He’s able to get to the front of the net. We were trying to find a knack with him with that group, and it’s a good time to find that right now.”
Behind the second line in terms of on-ice growth has been the second defensive pairing of senior Zach Smith and junior Chase Wheeler, who have been paired together for three seasons. Not unlike the second forward group, Smith and Wheeler play behind a formidable pair in senior captains Andrew Roderigue and Matt Jolicoeur.
And, not unlike the forwards, their role has expanded beyond simply taking the ice in order to give Roderigue and Jolicoeur a breather.
“They’re obviously both really good defenders, and originally it started for us as a break for them,” said Wheeler, who scored a key goal in Tuesday’s regional championship win. “But we’ve kind of stepped into it and tried to contribute a lot more to the offense. We’re just trying to fill our role and contribute, too.”
That’s exactly what Martin was looking for out of both of his second units. In the first 25 minutes of the regional title game, those units provided opportunities where a tightly-checked top line could not.
“On any given night, you need someone to come up and do something for you,” Martin said. “The biggest thing for them is they don’t give up any goals. That’s the name of the game. They know that their job, first and foremost, is not to give up goals. But when they go out they always seem to come up with a big goal for us… It’s just that they’ve got confidence now.”
Confidence and depth are two qualities any of the four hockey teams remaining in the playoffs, regardless of class, can point to as keys this time of year.
Pellerin says that his line is on top of its game right now.
“I think it took us a couple games to figure out our line,” Pellerin said. “A little later on, we figured out where we were all going down the ice. We keep it simple, we dump it in and get the puck and try to make a pass. We don’t want to be fancy with it, it’s just pass, pass, pass.”
And if that works out, the second line’s formula for success begins to add up. On Saturday, Waterville hopes it adds up to a second straight state championship.
“Just run them down to the ground and make them tired right off. That’s our mentality, especially our line,” Pellerin said. “We go in, we forecheck, we hit them and we try and tire them out so our first line can take advantage.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621