Waterville is poised and ready for another banner year.

Literally.

One season after winning the Class B state championship in dramatic fashion — a 3-2 double overtime decision over Yarmouth — the Purple Panthers return a loaded roster that is primed for another deep run. Seventeen of the 18 skaters head coach Dennis Martin expects to dress on opening night against Hampden Academy were all on the roster last season, including all five defensemen and the top two forward lines.

As a result, the Panthers are eager to defend both their regional and state titles.

“We’re hoping to,” Martin said. “The biggest thing as a coach and a team is that we look at it as one game at a time. You don’t worry about what’s too far ahead of you. If you do that, you don’t succeed with what you’re doing in the first place.”

Even Nathan Pinnette, who will be a three-year starter in goal, is back. Pinnette is 29-6-3 in his first two seasons.

Top defensive pairing Andrew Rodrigue and Matt Jolicoeur, both seniors and all-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference selections last winter, return. Rodrigue had 29 goals last year and is just 15 points away from breaking the school’s scoring record for defensemen held by both Jeff Libby and Chad Hart. Jolicoeur is an offensive force as well — he is one of eight returning Panthers to crack the 30-point plateau last season.

For Martin, the biggest key to this season might simply be keeping Waterville focused on the task at hand.

“They’re already working harder than they did last year. We know we have the bulls-eye on us and everyone’s coming after us,” Martin said. “We’ve got to come into every game with the mentality that we’re going to work harder than anyone else.

“We expect a lot from them, and expect them to push each other every day. Practice is where you get after each other every day and get better. We don’t like the guys to get complacent and there’s no way they will.”

Messalonskee advanced to the regional finals last winter, but an Eagles team that went 13-6-2 was hit hard by graduation. All-time school scoring leader Jared Cunningham and his more than 260 career points are gone, as is last year’s leading scorer Brandon Nale, but first-year coach Kevin Castner says he has more than just capable replacements.

“I’m not looking to replace those two,” Castner said. “We have key players here who can fill those spots. What I’m hoping for is that the kids I do have can step up and realize their potential.”

Like Messalonskee, Winslow’s season ended last year with a playoff loss to Waterville. The Black Raiders, however, are in the unfamiliar spot of looking at a rebuilding year.

Winslow has only one senior on the roster and only two returning defensemen. Former assistant coach Dave Leach slides into the head coaching role.

“We’re going to have to take some of our forwards and make them defensemen and focus on the defensive side of the game,” Leach said.

Winslow does have Ben Grenier returning in goal this season and hopes the sophomore can steal the Raiders some points.

“Definitely, our goal is to make the playoffs and see what happens,” Leach said. “After Waterville and probably Brewer, the league’s pretty well watered down at our end of things.”

In Class B South, Gardiner took a big step forward last year and expects to be able to do more of the same this season. Two-time All-State netminder Michael Poirier is back for his senior season on a team that, like Waterville, returns its entire defensive corps.

Seniors Sloan Berthiaume and Tristan Hebert are back on the blue line for the Tigers, who went 13-4-1 a year ago and followed with an impressive run to the regional finals.

Head coach Sam Moore thinks the team can achieve more, even in what he believes is a deeper and more talented region presenting a tough road ahead of the Tigers.

“I feel really good,” Moore said. “We should be a strong defensive team, really strong defensively.

“I could talk forever about (Poirier). He’s the backbone of the team, and he’s emerged into a real leader, a quiet leader, for us.”

Maranacook/Winthrop is coming off a winless season, but the future starts now for the Black Bears. Head coach Chip Jones points to the size of this year’s incoming class as proof that the turnaround is beginning.

“We’ve got eight freshman this year, and it’s the beginning of a three-year cycle where we should see between eight and 12 (freshmen) each year,” Jones said. “This is probably going to be the year that things start turning around. We’re on the top of that bubble. It’s the start of a rebuilding kind of year, but I definitely think we should have a better year than last year.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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