For a group accustomed to winning championships, this was a first.
Buxton’s Tanner McClure broke a tie midway through the third period and Bangor’s Derek Fournier made a game-preserving save in the final seconds, lifting the Maine Moose to a 3-2 win over the New Hampshire Avalanche in the 2017 18U Tier II 2A junior hockey national championship game Monday at Suburban Ice in East Lansing, Michigan. It marked the first time in program history that the 18U team won the national title, after winning a third state championship earlier this season.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Moose coach Jeff Ross said. “But with the talent we have, we felt like we had the experience and the background to do it. It was just a matter of getting it done.”
The Moose, which last year captured the 16U national championship, feature three Waterville Senior High School players in Jackson Aldrich, Matt Jolicoeur and Andrew Roderigue, as well as three Lewiston skaters in Jeromey Rancort, Cole Ouellette and Cody Doyon. Between those six players, they’ve captured each of the last two Class A and Class B state high school championships.
“It feels good,” Aldrich said. “It’s comparable to winning a state championship, because you’re playing with teammates you’ve played with for a long time.”
Cony’s Cam Wilson and Thomas Arps were also part of the championship-winning squad, as was Kents Hill School goaltender Esa Maki. Wilson, Jolicoeur and Maki all played on last year’s 16U title team, as did Doyon and McClure.
The victory wasn’t only a second straight national championship for the players who also won it as 16U players a year ago, but also a bit of redemption for the 18U team that lost in the national semifinals in 2016.
“I think a lot of that carried over,” Wilson said. “Between Coach Ross having been there before and our team not wanting to go out on a bad note, none of us really wanted to lose that (championship) game. That’s what drove us to finish it off.”
Perhaps unremarkably, considering the championship pedigree at the high school level so many of the Moose have, the expectations of winning existed. While it would have been easy to go to a national tournament and have no expectations beyond simply enjoying the experience, Wilson said that’s where this group stood out.
“I think that’s one of the things that makes our team special,” Wilson said. “We went into all of those games looking to win. We showed up there with the expectation that we were there to win the championship.”
Maine went undefeated in pool play, with wins over the Chesterfield (Missouri) Falcons (5-1), the Junior (Arizona) Sun Devils (3-1) and the Alaska Wolves (8-3). Aldrich and Wilson each scored twice in an 11-2 victory over the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Elite in the semifinals leading up to the title game.
“One of things about this team is they don’t know how to lose,” Ross said. “They just know how to come back and battle. We beat Alaska 8-3, but they cut it to 4-3 at one point, and in a minute we had knocked it up to 5-3 and then scored again before the end of the second period to make it 6-3. They knew how to respond. They’re just comfortable in those situations.”
“We knew that we had a very skilled team, all the way from the goalies through the defensemen and all of the forwards,” Aldrich said. “Most of them were together for four years straight. The chemistry was really good, and everybody was together right from the start.”
But without Fournier in net, who turned away a 2-on-0 breakaway by New Hampshire with two seconds left to preserve the national championship, the Moose might be wondering this week how they let it slip away.
“I think he and (Maki) are probably the two best goalies in the state,” Wilson said.
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The current Maine Moose 16U team also competed in a national championship tournament over the weekend, not advancing out of pool play in that Tier II 2A tournament in Plano, Texas.
In a 4-3 win in their opening game, Kents Hill’s Grady Friedman scored a pair of goals, while Hall-Dale’s Cole Lockhart also scored.
Travis Barrett — 621-5621