WATERVILLE — When two of the three highest-scoring teams in Class B North play for the regional championship Wednesday night, special teams play will be of particular interest.

No. 1 Old Town/Orono boasts not only the second-most potent offense in the league, but it has been lethal all season on the power play. Twenty-two of the team’s 85 goals — more than a quarter of them — came with the man-advantage. Cashing in at an eye-popping 28.9 percent success rate, Old Town/Orono has more than enough firepower to make opponents pay for a lack of discipline.

No. 2 Kennebec, which will face the Black Bears at 7 p.m. at the University of Maine’s Alfond Arena for the regional title, knows just how dangerous Old Town/Orono can be on the power play. In the final game of the regular season, the Black Bears used a power-play goal late in the second period against the RiverHawks to turn what had been a 5-1 Kennebec lead into a one-goal game heading into the final intermission.

Kennebec would end up winning the game 6-4 to earn a season split against Old Town/Orono, which went 3 for 8 with the man advantage in the two games against the RiverHawks, including a 6-4 win of its own at home on Dec. 22.

“Power play is something we focus on a lot,” said Black Bear junior Sam Henderson. “You’ve got to take advantage of those chances, and we do that. That’s something we’ve been trying to do for the entirety of the year.”

Old Town/Orono has three players who finished with at least 12 goals this season. Henderson and Tanner Evans each scored 12 times, while junior Tyler McCannell led the Black Bears with 18 goals. Two other players — Trent Lick and Gabe Talon — each finished with eight goals. Only Presque Isle with 104 goals scored more times in the league this season, while Kennebec was third with 71 goals.


But the power play is where the Black Bears make their bank. They scored more than twice as many goals as the next team in the league, Presque Isle with 10 man-advantage goals.

“We’ve been kind of struggling with it as of late, and I don’t know why,” said Old Town/Orono coach Chris Thurlow, whose team has scored more than once on the power play only one time over its last four games, including a semifinal win over Camden Hills on Saturday. The Black Bears are five for their last 21 with the man advantage (23.8 percent), below their season-long average.

“We were so good. We had some injuries and we had to replace some guys, and we kind of got out of sync. Toward the end, we just said, ‘Let’s put two guys up top with our (regular) lines and just play it.”

Henderson says that’s one of the reasons the team has been able to succeed even when things haven’t been perfect.

“We have a lot of combinations we can throw out there,” he said. “We have two sets of power plays we can put out there. That way we can save our legs and it messes up teams, too.”

The RiverHawks, who were hit hard by the penalty bug during the regular season, know it’s an area of emphasis they cannot avoid against Old Town/Orono. They were just 3 of 5 killing penalties in their semifinal win over Presque Isle, allowing a power-play goal to the Wildcats with 1:05 remaining that sent the game into overtime.


Kennebec head coach Jon Hart would prefer not to test his team’s depth by having to kill penalties all night in the regional final. Add in the fact that the game is being played at Alfond — the Black Bears’ home rink — and taking penalties there could quickly turn into a tightrope the RiverHawks don’t want to walk.

“I thought we played a pretty disciplined game after the beginning of the year,” said Kennebec coach Jon Hart. “Sometimes just the style of play can get you into trouble. A lot of those ugly penalties are gone for us, it’s more of the hustle ones where you trip a guy going for a puck in the corner.

“I’m very confident in our penalty kill, but in the playoffs when you shorten your bench, you don’t want anybody in the box. There’s times where your third line takes a penalty, but you’ve still got your first line penalty killing. Right now if we lose somebody, it’s a vital penalty killer possibly. We’ve got to stay out of the box. It’s a huge deal against (the Black Bears), especially in their home rink. There’s just something about being in your home rink that makes you comfortable.”

Special teams have been good for Kennebec in stretches this season. Four players finished with 11 or more goals this season for the RiverHawks, including a total of 48 from the top line of Nate Newgard (21), Tibbetts (14) and Brandon Mason (13), which has rounded into form as a unit both at even strength and on the power play since a season-ending injury to Cody Ivey (11 goals) with just two games left in the regular season.

True to the old hockey adage that your goalie must be your best penalty killer, the RiverHawks are backed by senior goalie Ben Grenier. Grenier has a 2.36 goals against average and a .910 save percentage, both tops among Class B North goalies who have appeared in at least half their team’s games.

“It’s the playoffs and anything can happen,” said Kennebec’s Tom Tibbetts, who scored a shorthanded goal against Old Town/Orono on Feb. 19. “We’ve just got to play our penalty kill right and stay mentally strong. We’ve got to play a complete game and work hard every shift.”


“We’re going into this knowing this is going to be a battle and we’re going to have to play our best game,” Hart said.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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