BY BILL STEWART

Staff Writer

Mike Latendresse knew his Messalonskee High School hockey team had enough talent to contend for a state championship.

There was, he said, only one way the Eagles would fall flat in their quest.

“The only thing that could derail us was us playing as individuals,” he said. “The guys from Day 1 believed they could do something special. The goal was not to be great in the first week of the season. We needed to get ready for last four games of the year.”

The Eagles certainly did that, rolling through the regular season before stunning two-time defending regional champ Brewer in the Eastern B title game.

Messalonskee came up short in the Class B state championship game, but not before making history.

For leading the Eagles to their first-ever regional championship, Latendresse is the Morning Sentinel Hockey Coach of the Year. Skowhegan coach Jeff Fowler was also considered.

“We knew we had the talent and we knew we had the skill,” Latendresse said. “We just had to come together as a team. Really, that was the focus. That was the biggest challenge for me, keeping everyone on track to make the team better. We just talked about staying focused all season.”

The Eagles did, finishing 18-4-0 in Eastern B. Messalonskee played in Eastern A last season.

The Eagles put up gaudy numbers and stayed near Brewer at the top of the Eastern B standings all season. The Eagles lost three games to the Witches during the season before earning their revenge in the regional final.

Led by seniors Sam Dexter, Travis St. Pierre and Nate DelGiudice, the Eagles were a veteran-heavy team that allowed Latendresse to implement more complex systems.

“As a coach, you need to adjust to the team you have,” Latendresse said. “There’s no doubt about it. You have to be different from one year to another year. I’ve learned over the years you have to be different. With this team, the hockey (intelligence) was so much larger than what we ever had in the past. We were able to do so much more systematically, which was great. It really kept my interest. We were able to do so much.”

Dexter, who scored 79 points in 22 games, said Latendresse was consistent in practice and in games, which made it easier for the players.

“Coach is one of the most consistent guys I’ve ever met,” Dexter said. “The way he goes about himself every game, every practice. Everything is so organized and intense. He loves the game and he knows a ton about it. We’re fortunate at Messalonskee to have a former Division I national championship player coaching us.”

DelGiudice agreed.

“It’s been great to play for him for years,” he said. “He prepared us well for every game. He talks a lot about keeping your emotions in check. You can’t be too high or too low. All the players love him. Everyone respects him a lot.”

Latendresse was a member of the 1992-93 University of Maine hockey team that finished 42-1-2 and won the national title. Latendresse said he still draws upon his experiences at UMaine and playing for the late Shawn Walsh.

“It does have an effect,” he said. “I rely on past experiences with past coaches. It does have an effect the way you go about things. I’ve been through a lot of situations. I think that with the guys knowing you’ve been in situations, that helps as well. When you’ve been there, you end up with some credibility that players will respect.”

Added Dexter: “This year, he knew coming in we had the weapons and experience to do something special. He knew it’d be a special year and he put in the time and effort. It makes our jobs easier knowing your coach is someone you can rely on and trust.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]


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