Jan. 20—It's that point of the regular season in boys hockey where some teams only have played a third of the 18-game schedule. At the other end of the spectrum, some clubs have played two-thirds of their games.
Class A's Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills Ice Cats have only played seven games. That's the second-least amount of games played this season — several Class B North teams have only gotten six games in.
Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills (4-3) is still trying to find its identity as a team while going up against clubs that may have found their chemistry with the number of games they already have played.
"We definitely got backloaded on the schedule this year," Ice Cats coach Wayne Neiman said. "It's hard because some teams we are playing have already played eight, nine, 10 games, and we are still kind of ironing out going into game seven. We are starting to figure it out, but other teams have had a couple of extra games. Those reps mean a big deal...those teams are more consistent because they are in a rhythm."
The Ice Cats also dealt with the flu bug in December. In the first three games, several varsity players were out of the lineup, and the Ice Cats had to call up players from the junior varsity team.
Neiman said in the past four games, the Ice Cats are starting to build chemistry with a healthy lineup.
The Ice Cats are hosting some big matchups in the 11 remaining games. They have Falmouth (5-2) coming to Bridgton Ice Arena on Jan. 23, defending Class A state champion Scarborough (5-3) on Feb. 4, and Edward Little (7-2) on Feb. 10.
Last year, the Ice Cats started the season 9-1 before finishing 12-7.
"Ideally, we started out pretty hot, and we cooled down," Neiman said. "I am hoping this year it's the exact opposite, where we go .500 the first half of the season and start getting hotter at the beginning of playoffs."
Meanwhile, St. Dominic Academy has played 11 games this season, and coach Dan D'Auteuil said he likes the more spread-out schedule the Saints (5-6) have.
While the Ice Cats dealt with sickness at the beginning of the season, the Saints have some injuries currently. The schedule will let players get healed up.
"The next couple of weeks, where we go one game at a time, is going to be good for us," D'Auteuil said. "It will get us some rest and get people healthy again."
Getting most of the regular-season schedule in by the middle of January allows the Saints to go to Connecticut and face some out-of-state competition in February. They face Notre Dame on Feb. 3 and West Haven on Feb. 4.
D'Auteuil said exhibition games are a good change from the regular-season schedule.
"That's a fun trip for everybody, even if it's two games," D'Auteuil added.
The Rams started the regular trek to the Lewiston/Auburn area on Wednesday with a 3-1 loss to St. Dom's on Wednesday.
Bangor returns to Norway Savings Bank Arena on Saturday in a matchup against Edward Little. It's the fourth time in the past five seasons the Rams travel twice to Lewiston/Auburn in the same week.
Usually, Bangor will play Lewiston in one of its two times down, but this year the Rams will face the Blue Devils at The Colisee on Feb. 22 — the final regular-season game for both teams.
Coach Quinn Paradis said he welcomes this trip down, as the Rams traveled outside the Bangor/Orono area only once this season prior to Wednesday, when they faced Scarborough at the University of Southern Maine on Dec. 17.
"It's going to be good; we are used to playing a lot of games down here," Paradis said. "It's really our only second road game — our third will be this coming Saturday. We have a lot of games still in hand. Our bus legs, we have to learn how to play. They got out of school (Wednesday), hustled to the bus, and got going."
As for Saturday's game against the Red Eddies, the focal point for the Rams is to contain forward Campbell Cassidy.
"They are well-disciplined, they are a strong team, and they have that dynamite forward that's very dynamic," Paradis said. "He can really score when he's in the slot. We have to find a way to shut him down and slow him up."
The Edward Little/Leavitt/Poland girls hockey team is currently 1-10, but for coach Dana Berube, the record is something he's not worried about this season.
The Red Hornets have a number of new players who haven't played before. This season, it's been about teaching and building up the players' skills for Berube.
"They literally are all new to hockey," Berube said. "We went to Play It Again (Sports) and got like 10 sets of new gear and borrowed gear so we could have a team. That hasn't been the focus this year, the wins and losses; you kind of know what you got. I have been really proud of our two captains, Kylee (Spugnardi) and Alyssa (Prosser). It's been tough mentally on them, but they have had a good year. They play hard every game and they work hard in every practice."
Berube said it's been a learning curve not only for the players, but for the coaching staff too.
"It's been a few years since I have had a young team, so I have had to change how I coach," Berube said. "We do a lot of skills stuff — that's what we need to work on. "
Skating is a key skill the Red Hornets are working on this season.
The girls are asking for feedback so they can make improvements. Berube had a player reach out after last Saturday's Lewiston game.
"I had a girl send me a long email within an hour after the game," Berube said. "It said: 'Hey coach, I really like hockey; what can I improve on to be better for the team?' It's those types of things — that's why you coach, right? You aren't always going to regionals or have a very competitive team. You have to find ways to make it competitive and challenging and try to get everybody some experience this year — give them a basis if they like it and if they want to come back."
With only a few seniors on the roster, Berube is building the foundation for next season, as he expects an influx of talent from the Maine Gladiators' youth program in the coming years.
"We only have two seniors, so that's a great thing," Berube said. "We have a lot of girls playing with the Gladiators. We are just buying that time."
Lewiston goalie Kim McLaughlin kept the Blue Devils in the game against the Penobscot Pioneers.
She stopped 51 of 54 shots in a 3-1 loss on Wednesday to the co-op team which is made up of players from Brewer/Bangor/Hampden/Hermon/John Bapst/Old Town/Orono.
Lewiston coach Scott Laberge said McLaughlin gives the Blue Devils a chance every time on the ice.
"She has seen a lot more shots this year than the last couple of years," Laberge said. "She steps up her game, and so far, she has met the challenge in every game."
It's the second time McLaughlin had a standout performance against the Pioneers. On Dec. 30, she made 59 saves in a 7-1 loss at Alfond Arena in Orono.
Laberge said the defense helped McLaughlin out Wednesday, as the Blue Devils defended the Pioneers differently than the first game by forcing Penobscot to shoot outside the faceoff circles.
"We had a different game plan for them — obviously, we already faced them — so we worked on something this week to counteract that," Laberge said. "We tried to keep their shots to the outside and not give them the middle of the ice so much. I think when we played them in the Alfond, they had five or six breakaways. I don't think they had more than one or two last night. The team in front of her also stepped up and played a solid defensive game."