The end of the high school hockey regular season is still three weeks away but a trio of central Maine teams seem to be rounding into playoff form.

Waterville (10-0-1 Class B North) is one of two teams in the state without a tally in the loss column (Scarborough (9-0-1 Class A South is the other), while Gardiner and Winslow have caught fire after a couple losses early. The Tigers (9-2-1 Class B South) are 9-0-1 in their previous 10 games, while the Black Raiders (8-2-2 Class B North) have gone 7-0-2 in their past nine contests.

“We do have a lot of good, quality players around here this year,” Waterville head coach Dennis Martin said of the play in the area. “A lot of younger players are really stepping up their game.”

Martin emphasized that the Purple Panthers have maintained their same, unselfish approach throughout the winter and are still skating the same lines and defensive pairings. The team will certainly get a great challenge this week when it takes on Lewiston (9-1-0 Class A North) Wednesday at 4:50 p.m. at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“We’ve had a week and a half of just preparing and skating. We’ll see how it goes and see where we match up,” Martin said. “We know it should be a heck of a game. They’re a heck of a team.”

If the meeting with Lewiston was not enough, the Purple Panthers will make the 430-mile trek round trip to Presque Isle (1-9-0 Class B North) for a game Thursday at the Northern Maine Forum and wrap up the week Saturday at 1 p.m. at Colby College against Houlton/Hodgdon/Southern Aroostook/Katahdin (1-10-0 Class B North).

“We’re going to be the road warriors,” Martin said. “We’ve got a busy stretch coming up.”

Like Waterville, Gardiner is also likely in store for a strong test down the final stretch of the season with six games remaining on its schedule. The Tigers have home games against Leavitt (4-6-1) and Brunswick (7-5-1), as well as road contests at York (8-4-0), Kennebunk (5-6-1) and Cape Elizabeth (4-5-2).

“I’m trying to bring on the attitude that this is the playoffs for them,” Gardiner head coach Sam Moore said. “I’d really like them to get in the mindset that there are no second chances, so I think they’re buying into it pretty good. Everyone is working hard in practice and it seems to be going well right now.”

• • •

While Waterville has stuck with the same lineup, Winslow head coach Andy Dube has elected to mix things up with his lines recently.

The Black Raiders are coming off a stretch in which they played just one game — Saturday’s 12-3 win over the Blackhawks — in 17 days, and in an effort to keep the competition level high in practice Dube split up his top line of Jimmy Fowler, Jake Trask and Tommy Tibbetts. Fowler and Tibbetts are still together along with Logan Denis, while Trask is skating with Dameron Rodrigue and a combination of Ben Frost and Nick West.

“We haven’t lost any momentum,” Dube said. “We’ve just been skating every day in practice as hard as we possibly can.”

Fowler and Trask have spent the bulk of their careers on the same line together, but Dube noted that splitting them up has allowed them to push each other more in practice.

“It gives them a good challenge and a better way to get better,” Dube said. “Competing against each other is always good.

“…It’s a good mix. It’s a good formula to get better.”

• • •

Gardiner coach Moore has kept the lines and defensive pairings fairly similar throughout the season, but the Tigers did recently get a boost with the return of freshman Tanner Hebert. The younger brother of junior assistant captain Tristan Hebert, Tanner Hebert missed the first nine games of the season with a broken collar bone. He returned to the ice on Jan. 16, according to Moore.

“He really makes a difference. I’ve got him centering the third line and he really picks things up,” Moore said. “He’s a really smart player and is always flying out there.

“…I feel comfortable using him in penalty killing. I can stick him out on a power play if I need to. I have a lot of confidence in him.”

• • •

The school’s career scoring record was not the only thing snapped in Messalonskee’s 10-4 win over Old Town/Orono on Saturday.

Senior Jared Cunningham needed three points to break the mark of 256 set by his older brother, Chase, and he finished with seven points in the win. The victory also snapped a three-game losing streak for the Eagles (6-3-1).

“When you have three losses in a row you want to stop the bleeding,” Messalonskee head coach Joe Hague said. “You want to get the goals going forward and in the end get back into that routine that you’re used to.”

A number of players on the team had not lost three games in their careers, let alone three in a row and Hague said the tough stretch affected some of his players differently.

“We’re a good mix of young and old and that experience got us back in it,” Hague said. “We turned it around and did everything we needed to do on Saturday.”

The Eagles have plenty of experience with Cunningham, senior Dylan Burton and junior Brandon Nale leading the way, but the team — as expected — has had its growing pains in net.

From Nate DelGiudice to Ben Weeks to Elija Tuell, Messalonskee has had the luxury of seasoned goalies ready to step in each year. This winter, however, freshmen Eli Michaud and Amber Kochaver have split time in net.

“There’s a lot of nerves and everything, but I think they’ve adjusted very well,” Hague said. “They want to win for this team.”

Both Michaud and Kochaver have been working with Weeks, a volunteer assistant with the team, and Nate DelGiudice’s father, John, who is also an assistant, to get up to speed. Recently it has been Kochaver who has gotten the call to start. Hague said she played well in the win over Old Town/Orono and would once again get the start in Monday night’s game at John Bapst.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

TWitter: @Evan_Crawley


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