HOULTON, MAINE — Although the outcome was not what coach Tony Marino hoped for, it is hard to knock the effort put forth Friday evening by the Houlton-Hodgdon-Southern Aroostook-Katahdin Blackhawks hockey team.
Playing in their season-opener, in front of a good crowd of fans, the Blackhawks skated competitively against visiting Camden Hills, with the two squads scoreless at the end of the first period. The local team gave up two quick goals in the second period and ultimately fell 5-2 to the Windjammers.
In that game, Blackhawk junior forward Josh Malone scored both goals — one in the second period and one in the third. Ian Neurether made 41 saves on 46 shots for the Blackhawks.
For Camden Hills, Nicholas Czuchra and Will Davee each scored a second-period goal, while in the third period, James Orne scored two goals and Matthew Prescott added one.
Despite the loss, Marino, who is entering his third season as varsity coach, is optimistic for a positive season on the ice. The Blackhawks have a small roster, and are young with just one senior, six juniors, six sophomores and three freshmen.
Members of the 2015-16 Blackhawk roster include senior Billy Phillips; juniors Nate Lilly, John Williams, Malone, Jamie Palmer, Elizabeth Ward and Morgan Grant; sophomores Garrett Perkins, Zach Fitzpatrick, Abe Lorom, Nick Delucca, Drew Marino and AJ Henderson; and freshmen Alex Wilde, Ian Neureuther and Seth Rand.
The Blackhawks suffered their first serious injury in a Thursday practice when Drew Marino, a forward, fell awkwardly and broke his wrist. He will be sidelined for the foreseeable future, but the coach hopes to have him back at some point during the season.
Coach Marino said he will be leaning on his goal tenders, and defenseman Lorom early in the season to keep the Blackhawks in games while the offense sorts itself out. Offensively, the coach has high hopes for Malone, Henderson and Delucca.
The Blackhawks are in their first year as a four-school cooperative team after Southern Aroostook Community School and Katahdin High School were welcomed into the fold this past offseason.
There is just one player from the two RSU 50 schools — Lilly — on the roster this year, but Marino is hopeful for additional players in the coming years, based on projections.
A new wrinkle this season is that the Blackhawks will have three goalies on the roster — Rand, Neureuther and Lilly — capable of seeing time in the net.
“In the past, we have only had one, so now we have a lot of flexibility,” Marino said. “Having three goalies is a good problem to have. We can ride whichever one is hot and whoever is working the hardest is going to earn their time.”
The squad lost a bundle of talented players to graduation as Cameron Clark, Lucas Peabody, Seth Hannigan, Noah Blake and Rachel Harmon all played their final seasons a year ago. Replacing so many talented players will be difficult, Marino said, but this year’s group is eager for the challenge.
“I’m very excited for the season,” the coach said. “I feel we are miles ahead of where we were a year ago. We had a preseason tourney in Bangor and finished 2-1. I’m expecting our league to be competitive, but with a lot of parity. Any given night, anybody can win.”
The coach added the player’s attitudes have been extremely positive, which has created a good vibe in the locker room.
“We have really done almost a 180 turn in that regard,” the coach said.
Waterville and Messalonskee will likely be the top two teams in the region, Marino added.