While the Waterville Senior High School and York High School hockey teams are on very different trajectories, they’ll both be fighting for the same thing when they meet for the Class B state championship Saturday afternoon at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
When the puck drops at 1 p.m., the Purple Panthers (19-1-0) will have the feeling that they’ve been here before as they try to win a second consecutive state title. For the Wildcats, it will be a brand new experience for a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since before the current crop of seniors were freshmen.
York last went to the playoffs in 2012, one year after winning the school’s only hockey championship.
“It feels amazing,” York junior goalie Keenan Gamache said. “None of us had ever experienced this. All of us are pretty excited about it.”
York (17-2-1), the No. 2 seed out of Class B South, won the regional championship with a 3-2, come-from-behind win in overtime against No. 4 Greely in a bracket that was turned upside down in the quarterfinals when the lowest seed in the tournament, Yarmouth at No. 6, advanced.
Top-seeded Gardiner, the only team to beat York this season (twice), was upset by Greely in the semifinals.
“This is a well-rounded squad right now,” York coach Jim Powers said of his team’s return to the playoffs, which includes an 11-game unbeaten streak heading into Saturday. “Sometimes you go through a little bit of a drought, but most of these kids are back this year. (Last year) we got into the first round, but we just didn’t have enough horses.”
The horses have shown up this month. Jake Martin scored twice in regulation in the regional final, including a shorthanded goal to tie the game late, and Andrew Bertolini won it in overtime. Five different players, including leading scorer Tommy Carr (24 goals in the regular season), scored in the semifinals.
Eight different players registered more than 10 points this season. The balance has been a big component for the Wildcats.
“It seems like a lot of teams have one guy that’s really, really strong,” Powers said. “They’re good players, but it’s easier to defend when one guy is doing most of the lugging. Skating three lines has been huge.”
Class B North champion Waterville, the top seed in the region, knows all about spreading out scoring. The most prolific offense in Class B, the Purple Panthers (19-1-0) have scored 161 goals this season. Eleven different players hit the 10-point mark this winter, with six of those putting up 20 or more points.
Senior left wing Jackson Aldrich has 76 points, including 45 assists. His prime target has been senior center Justin Wentworth, who has 44 goals to lead all players in the state.
“All the goals are great, but our ultimate goal is to win the championship as a team,” said Wentworth, who scored in overtime to lead Waterville past No. 2 Old Town Orono 6-5 in the regional final. “If we play our game, I think we’re really going to have a good game on Saturday.”
The Purple Panthers have won 21 state championships dating back to 1927, including 20 Class A titles. A win Saturday would give them their first back-to-back titles since they won three straight from 1979-1981.
While Waterville may have given up more goals to Old Town/Orono than it’s become accustomed to, head coach Dennis Martin likes his team’s character heading into the state championship.
“We’re skating pretty well, but in terms of playing our best hockey, I think we’ve had some lapses here and there,” Martin said. “There’s some situations we want to focus on a little bit more, but we’re playing pretty good hockey.
“We’re playing determined hockey. They’ve got that will out there to do whatever it takes. They’ve got that fight out there.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621