WATERVILLE — Dennis Martin has been a coach with the Waterville Senior High School hockey team for the past 21 years, the previous 12 of which have been as the head coach.

One team has continued to come to mind for Martin as a comparison to this season’s squad, and that should have a lot of Purple Panther fans excited.

“I do compare them a lot to my ’09 team,” Martin said. “They stack right up there but you have to remember, it’s the end result that matters. These guys are a talented bunch.”

In 2009, Waterville won the Class A title with a 3-2 victory over St. Dominic in the finals. The Purple Panthers are well aware there is plenty of hockey still to be played before they can consider themselves in the same class as the team from 2009, but the opportunity is there.

“The main goal is to play as best as we can,” said junior Jackson Aldrich, whose older brother, Eric, played on the championship team in 2009. “Whether it’s Messalonskee or it’s Presque Isle it doesn’t matter what team we’re playing. We’re going to play the best that we can when we go on the ice.”

Waterville (12-1-1 Class B North) has looked dominant at times this season, with its only loss a 5-1 decision last Wednesday against Class A Lewiston (11-1-0). Against rivals Messalonskee (8-3-2) and Winslow (9-2-2) the Purple Panthers are unbeaten. They defeated the Eagles 6-5 on Jan. 16, while against the Black Raiders they picked up a 6-2 win on Dec. 12 and 4-4 tie on Dec. 28. Waterville hosts Messalonskee on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Colby College.

“This is the goal and hopefully we can keep rolling at this pace. I expected nothing less than this after a tough loss in the playoffs last year,” senior Michael Oliveira said. “It was my goal to go on a good run this year in the playoffs.”

In Martin’s tenure at Waterville he also noticed a decline in the number of players who come out for the team. This year, however, it has worked to the team’s benefit.

Limited roster sizes has forced Martin to play a lot of freshmen over the past few years. Freshmen, who are now juniors and seniors and reaping the benefits of that extended amount of varsity experience.

“Our numbers have declined so more younger guys are playing just out of necessity,” Martin said. “When I first started at Waterville we’d have 40 or 50 kids go out for the team. Way back 30 years ago if a freshman even stepped foot on the varsity it was rare. They get the experience but there have been some players that have come in as talented freshmen too.”

Forwards Oliveira and fellow senior Nick Denis each played as freshmen, while their linemate, Cody Pellerin, a sophomore, saw significant minutes a season ago. The team’s other forward group of juniors Justin Wentworth, Michael Bolduc and Aldrich are each in their third season on varsity as well.

Junior defensemen Andrew Roderigue, Matt Jolicoeur and Zach Smith were each varsity players as freshmen, while sophomore Chase Wheeler is in his second season playing varsity hockey. Junior Nathan Pinnette is a second-year starter in goal, while freshmen John Evans and Cooper Hart are attempting to follow in the footsteps of those that came before them.

“The chemistry had built up over time. (Denis and I) have played together for three years now and everything has just clicked together,” Oliveira said. “With Cody on our line now jumping up from last year he’s contributed a lot. Our first two lines are producing a lot this year and I’m definitely pleased with that.”

Waterville has scored 97 goals on the season, an average of just under seven per game. What is more impressive is the balance with which the team has received its scoring. Seven players — Aldrich (33), Roderigue (33), Oliveira (30), Wentworth (29), Denis (25), Jolicoeur (24) and Pellerin (22) — have at least 20 points this season.

“It’s great just knowing we have two lines to rely on instead of one top line. All the pressure is not on you,” Oliveira said. “It’s just a great feeling knowing that we don’t have a set power play line — especially with our defensemen, Roderigue and Jolicoeur. Any time they’re out there I’m confident they can get the job done.”

Martin said it is that balanced scoring attack that reminds him so much of the 2009 team.

“We had two lines that can score then and we have two lines now. A lot of commonality and they work so hard as a group,” Martin said. “The chemistry and the bonding, that’s all it boils down to.”

There are no guarantees that this year’s Waterville team will equal the run of the 2009 squad — which, coincidentally, was the last time the Purple Panthers won a state title in boys hockey. Yet at the very least Waterville has shown thus far it will have a chance of capturing that elusive championship.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


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