Nick Denis was in his sophomore year at Waterville Senior High School the first time he met Michael Oliveira and it was not long before the two became close friends.

“It was just like I was his friend all along,” Denis, who was at Winslow for his freshman year, said by phone Monday. “We became like brothers.”

That bond has only strengthened over the years and the duo, now seniors, are a big part of why the top-seeded Purple Panthers (17-1-1) will play No. 3 Messalonskee (13-5-2) on Tuesday at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena for the Class B North championship.

“I’ve been playing with (Oliveira) for three years and the first year we connected real well. From there we’ve just grown and we always know where each other are,” Denis said. “This year especially with the addition of (sophomore) Cody Pellerin we’ve only played together for a year and our chemistry has grown tremendously. We know where we’re going to be at all times.”

The line of Oliveira (40), Denis (35) and Pellerin (28) has combined for 103 points this season but the contributions of the two senior captains goes beyond just scoring. Denis and Oliveira are Waterville’s most experienced players on the ice and only seniors outside of backup goalie Logan Kearney and defenseman Ben Hatch, who is out with a shoulder injury.

“The biggest thing they bring is the team chemistry. Between the seniors and juniors they bring a lot of things to the table,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said after the team’s 2-0 semifinal win over Winslow. “You can see they have that desire and that effort and our guys follow it. Those guys are real intense and it brings it to the rest of those guys.”

For as intense as Denis and Oliveira are on the ice, they have made sure to stay relaxed off it as well to help alleviate some of the pressure that comes with being the No. 1 seed.

“The team functions that we do are just a blast,” Denis said. “No one is ever sad or mad. Everyone is always smiling.”

Waterville had one of those functions Sunday at Oliveira’s house where players dyed their hair blonde for Tuesday’s regional final. Denis said it was just another example of steps the team has taken to build chemistry this season.

“Having team functions definitely helps connections. When you know your teammates and you know them well that’s when chemistry starts to happen,” Denis said. “Chemistry is a team game.”

It is hard to argue with the method when it has produced the kind of results Waterville has had this season. The Purple Panthers have six players with at least 30 points, while Oliveira, Jackson Aldrich and defenseman Andrew Roderigue all have 40 or more.

“All the guys out there are just working so hard and doing whatever it takes,” Martin said. “It’s all about everybody. If you look at Andrew and Matt (Jolicoeur), everybody out there it’s a team effort and that’s how we’ve been playing all year.”

The two goals Waterville scored Wednesday was a season low outside of its 5-1 loss to Class A North finalist Lewiston. Outside of a 3-2 win over Yarmouth, 3-1 victory over Camden Hills and 4-4 tie with Winslow, the Purple Panthers have scored five goals or more in every other game this season — often in well-balanced fashion.

Despite how effectively Waterville has played this season, it is well aware that it will be tested Tuesday against Messalonskee, which has won four straight regional titles.

“We’re going to see where we’re at and it’s definitely going to be a test to see if we can get there to the big show,” Oliveira said Saturday. “You just have to think about it as another game. You can’t get too nerved up about it. That’s what we did (Saturday). We thought about it as another game. You just go out and play and everything comes natural.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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