WATERVILLE — With as many as five of the nine Class B North teams staking a legitimate case for a regional final appearance, it’s the top two seeds that emerged at the end.

No. 1 Old Town/Orono and No. 2 Kennebec will meet at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the right to advance to the Class B state championship game Saturday.

“I thought about that (Saturday),” Old Town/Orono coach Chris Thurlow said. “After I saw (Kennebec) win, I’m like if we win, too, the seeds are going to hold and that’s crazy. There was an argument to be made for No. 4, 3, 2 even 5 (to reach the final).”

Kennebec beat No. 3 Presque Isle in overtime in a regional semifinal Saturday, after which Old Town/Orono dispatched of No. 4 Camden Hills. Kennebec, Old Town/Orono and Presque Isle all finished with more than 120 Heal points and were separated by less than half a point in the standings at the conclusion of the regular season. An 11-win Camden Hills team needed to beat No. 5 Hampden Academy in the quarterfinals, after the Broncos won 10 games this winter.

How the Black Bears and RiverHawks got here is a testament to their consistent play and respective ability to battle through adversity during the season. The Black Bears and RiverHawks combined to lose nine regular season games, split the two regular season meetings between them by identical scores and went 13-7-0 against the other five playoff teams in the region. The race for the regular season title was so close that the Black Bears edged the RiverHawks by just 0.0925 Heal points for the top seeding.

Where Kennebec (15-4-0) won three of its final four games of the season against playoff-bound teams, Old Town/Orono lost its last three to close out the campaign.

“I’m not surprised, but at the start of the year you might have been shocked with who was going to be (the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds),” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said. “That might have shocked people. A lot of the games this season in our league were close. .. I did think there was a good chance it was going to be this way.”

Wednesday’s final is a rematch — almost — of the 2017 regional final, when Waterville beat Old Town/Orono in overtime en route to the Purple Panthers’ second straight state championship. Waterville merged with Winslow at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. The top four scorers for the RiverHawks this season, including leader sophomore Nate Newgard (21-15-36 totals), hail from Winslow.

Kennebec’s Cooper Hart (17) battles for the puck with an Orono/Old Town player during a Class B North game Feb. 19 in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Dave Leaming

Both Old Town/Orono and Kennebec rely on a similar blueprint for their season-long successes. They both boast depth at the forward position, several experienced players on the blue line and strong goaltending.

“I think it’s depth,” said Thurlow, whose team beat Kennebec 6-4 on home ice and lost to the RiverHawks by an identical score in Waterville on the last day of the regular season. “We’ve got two strong lines and we’ve got five or six ‘D’ and we we get good goaltending.”

Even in preparing for a third game against one another this winter with the Class B North title on the line, neither coach could resist making comparisons to other teams who have already been eliminated along the playoff road.

Regardless of how they got there, or who they needed to go through to reach Alfond Arena this week, both Hart and Thurlow agreed that the parity among the league’s iron prepared their teams for the playoffs. And neither could decide which team was the best one this year from start to finish.

Of course, the finish is all that matters now.

Kennebec’s Thomas Tibbetts, left, chases after Presque Isle’s Gage LeTourneau during the Class B North semifinals Saturday at Colby College in Waterville. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“We just played them (on Feb. 19), and they played us tough,” Thurlow said. “They’ve got a really good goaltender in (Ben) Grenier, and coach Hart is a heck of a coach. But so is Carl (Flynn) from Presque Isle. It’s no big secret — and he’d be the first to admit it — they didn’t have the strongest goaltending and defense in the league. Sometimes, that’s not the best recipe for success down the stretch.”

“I think it all depended on who you played and when you played them,” Hart added. “Presque Isle was the best team when we played them (at home on Feb. 5), and Old Town/Orono was really good when we played them up there (on Dec 22). I have a lot of people that watched us play Presque Isle at home, and they were like, ‘Yeah, you guys are great,’ sarcastically. And then you watch Camden Hills, and they can really skate.

“In ways, Old Town/Orono is the best team we played and in ways Presque Isle was the best. I think it was between those two. They do things a little differently, but they also have a lot of similarities. I feel like they both really are deep, they both love to skate and grind, and they’re aggressive.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC


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