Matt Swan and Nate DelGiudice know what it’s like to lose.

They experienced an abundance of setbacks during their first three seasons as starting goalies for the Cony and Messalonskee hockey teams, respectively.

“The last few years were pretty tough,” said Swan, a Cony senior.

Ditto for DelGiudice, a Messalonskee senior.

“It was a hard first three years,” he said. “We were competitive but it was a fight to make the playoffs. It was a little frustrating. You always want to win and any loss is frustrating.”

Finally, in their fourth season as starting goalies, the tandem know what it’s like to win, and win a lot.

No. 2 Messalonskee (16-3-0) will play No. 3 Presque Isle (11-8-0) in an Eastern B showdown at 5 p.m. Saturday at Sukee Arena. No. 4 Cony (15-4-0) will play top-seeded and defending Eastern A champ Lewiston (14-4-1) in a regional semifinal at noon Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Swan and DelGiudice are big reasons why the Rams and Eagles enjoyed bounce-back seasons.

DelGiudice set program single-season records with a 1.58 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. He also became Messalonskee’s all-time leader in shutouts with 15.

“To me, he’s the best goalie we’ve ever had at Messalonskee,” Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse said. “He’s a great goalie. He always makes the big saves when it’s time to make the big saves. His decision-making when he has a chance to play the puck, it really is like having a third defenseman out there. It allows us to play differently.”

The 5-foot-9 DelGiudice faced significantly fewer shots this season — 435 — than ever before with the Eagles. He faced 640 last season, 610 in 2009-10 and 580 in 2008-09.

The Eagles finished a combined 21-30-3 in DelGiudice’s first three seasons, all played in Eastern A.

“The defense is really strong in front me,” he said. “They’ve been keeping shots at a minimum. They’re keeping them to the outside to make it easier on me. This has been the steadiest season I’ve had.”

Senior captain Sam Dexter agreed.

“Down the stretch in big games, it’s when he’s his best,” he said. “He’s a big-time goalie, always has been and always will be. He thrives on these games coming up. He’s always been competitive but I think this year, senior year, it’s come together for him. He wants to win every time he’s out there. This year is his last step and he’s trying his hardest.”

Same for Swan, his teammates say.

Cony senior captain Galen Casey said Swan “hasn’t had a bad game all year.”

“He’s kept us in a lot of games,” he said. “He works hard. He’s focused. He’s had a great season. I’m really impressed with how he bounced back. He’s stepped up and brought it to a whole other level.”

The Rams finished 21-33-1 in Swan’s first three seasons, which rattled his confidence.

“Last year was a tough year,” Cony assistant Shawn Johnson said. “We kept losing and his confidence was low. It was tough.”

Swan acknowledged the rough times, but said he knew the Rams would rebound this season.

He’s posted an .886 save percentage and a 2.05 GAA this season.

“It was frustrating before,” he said. “With hockey, we had to come back. We couldn’t keep our heads down. We had the same core coming back. I hoped we’d have a good year, but I didn’t know what to expect at first.”

Cony opened the season with a new home at Kents Hill after the Kennebec Ice Arena roof collapsed last March. It also opened with a new coach in Chad Foye, who took over for Bruce Dostie.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but we started playing really well,” Swan said.

And Swan was a big reason why.

“I think he was just ready this year to have a really good year,” Foye said. “He’s been such a positive for us in the locker room. He’s matured a lot. He just stuck with it. We needed him to have a good year this year, and he didn’t disappoint us.”

Added Swan: “When we’re winning, I’m doing my job. I love the game, but I love winning, too. Coming into this year, I knew I’d have to be solid.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

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