LEWISTON — The pain of defeat was still fresh on Travis St. Pierre’s face Saturday afternoon as he emerged from the locker room at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

St. Pierre and the Messalonskee Eagles had just lost 6-2 to Greely in the Class B state championship hockey game and words were tough to find.

“We lost and I don’t really have anything to say about it,” St. Pierre muttered to four tape recorders in his face.

When the subject turned to Messalonskee coach Mike Latendresse, St. Pierre’s expression softened.

“He’s awesome, best coach I’ve ever had playing hockey,” St. Pierre said. “He knows the game inside and out. Everything he says to me I listen because I know he knows what he’s talking about.”

Latendresse arrived at Messalonskee with an impressive resume. He was a member of the University of Maine’s best-ever hockey team, the 42-1-2 squad in 1992-93 that won the national championship. He was a freshman on that team and a good player who gets lost in the limelight afforded to Paul Kariya, Jim Montgomery, Mike Dunham and Garth Snow among others.

He arrived at Maine from Montreal, unable to speak English but was fairly fluent by the time he left two years later, thanks to his future wife Anne and some of his bilingual teammates. He embarked on a professional career that included whistlestops in New York, Ohio, Alabama, Michigan and West Virginia. After seven years in the minors, he and Anne, a Norridgewock native, settled in Maine to start a family.

This year was Latendresse’s 10th at Messalonskee and his best. The Eagles finished at 18-4-0 and made their first trip to a state championship game.

“Coach is a tremendous leader,” senior Sam Dexter said. “We’re nothing without him, really. He knows more about hockey than anyone I’ve ever met.”

Latendresse is able to transfer that knowledge into the heads of high school players and onto the ice. He’s a whirlwind on the bench during games, motivating his players, changing strategies on the fly and even buying a little time with the officials as he did during the first period after Greely scored three goals in 62 seconds.

“I thought about calling timeout after the second (goal),” Latendresse said. “I did a good job, I thought, talking to the refs to try to buy some time to calm the guys down.”

On this day, and perhaps others, Greely was the better team. The Rangers skated three solid lines and even threw a fourth on the ice in the third period, while the Eagles relied on two lines and four defensemen. Latendresse realized this and didn’t speculate with coulda-wouldas.

“You’ve got to give it to Greely,” he said. “They’re a fantastic team.”

Latendresse is 41 years old, far removed from his playing days, but can still dazzle his team when he straps on the skates during practice.

“He’s the fastest guy on the ice,” St. Pierre said.

Added Dexter: “Ask some of the goalies, he picks them apart. We all know he’s pretty good and he comes from a great hockey background.”

Great player doesn’t always equal great coach but in Latendresse’s case it has. His mission from the first day of practice 10 years ago was to gain some respect for the program.

“Early on it was all about discipline, to make sure we became a respected program,” Latendresse said. “I think we are respectable. Moving to (Class) B has given us the opportunity to get to these type of games. The guys should be proud of themselves and what they’ve accomplished this year.”

Latendresse pulled his goalie three times in the final two minutes and it resulted in a couple of empty net goals. He even called timeout with 1 minute, 23 seconds left and the Eagles down 5-1.

“I told the guys, ‘you never know,’ ” Latendresse said. “We got one quickly so you never know. The team knows that and that’s why we never quit.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638
[email protected]

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