WATERVILLE — This season, the Waterville Senior High School ice hockey team underwent a youth movement, not out of want, but out of neccesity. With just one senior and four juniors on the roster, the Purple Panthers turned to a large sophomore class.

“We don’t have a lot of older guys to lead,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said.

Now, Martin has a loaded sophomore class he can count on for leadership, and he has the group for two more years. Waterville’s 10 sophomores emerged this season as keys to the team’s successful regular season, and are eager to continue their winning in the playoffs.

“I think a lot of kids on our team improved a lot this year. Last year, some of us were a little timid, but a lot of us have grown and gotten better,” sophomore defenseman Andrew Roderigue said.

Waterville (13-4-1), the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Class B tournament, will play No. 3 Winslow (13-6) in the regional semifinals on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Sukee Arena. The rivals split a pair of regular season games.

Waterville enters the playoffs with an eight-game unbeaten streak. The Panthers last loss came on Jan. 17 to top seed and defending state champion Messalonskee. Since that game, Waterville is 7-0-1, and has outscored opponents, 49-20.

“They all worked hard in the offseason to get ready for this year. They get better every week,” Martin said of the sophomore class that makes up 55 percent of Waterville’s roster. “The end of last year and over the summer, I knew they were a dedicated bunch of guys.”

Waterville’s sophomores have played a lot of hockey together, competing well at the state and regional level while climbing up through youth hockey.

“We’ve been playing together for a long time, this sophomore class. We have good chemistry together,” defenseman Matt Jolicoeur said. “We’re all best friends off the ice. When we’re playing together and we score, we all go nuts.”

Roderigue said the class knew a lot would be expected of them. They were prepared for that, and prepared to better in the coming years.

“I knew we had a lot of young talent. Over the four years of high school, we’d get bigger and stronger,” Roderigue said. “Since Mites, we’ve been together.”

Roderigue and Jolicoeur are the Panthers’ top defensive pair.

“You can see, they always know where each other are on the ice. They both log a lot of minutes for me,” Martin said. “They play power play, penalty kill. They log the most ice time on the team. They compliment each other real well.”

A win over the Black Raiders on Saturday sends Waterville to the regional championship game for the first time since 2010, when the Panthers lost in the Class A championship game.

“I like the competition. We just have to come out on fire in the first period, and continue that in the second and third,” Roderigue said.

“Every day in practice, you see them work hard, and it pays off. They love to come to practice. They come to work as a group,” Martin said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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