The offseason is finally over for the Maine Nordiques and, barring another encounter with disaster, the Twin City Thunder. Both Twin Cities-based junior hockey teams are slated to begin their coronavirus-delayed seasons this weekend.
The Nordiques open their second season in the North American Hockey League with a two-game set against the rival Northeast Generals on Friday and Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee. Both games start at 7 p.m.
Nordiques head coach Nolan Howe is excited to see what this year’s group does on the ice after spending the past few weeks since training camp ended bonding off the ice.
“It’s been group that has really worked hard and they really came together off the ice,” Howe said. “We feel good about the character in our room, and I think that speaks to our veteran presence, right? Whether it’s guys returning from last season coming into year two, or guys that we picked up through different avenues that come in with junior experience.”
Nordiques newcomer Connor Wood, a draft pick this summer, said the team’s returning players have been invaluable.
“We have a very good group of returners,” Wood said. “Ever since day one, when us new players came into that locker room, we have been a family. That really says a lot of the returning group of players that we have and the great leadership here. They talked to us and let us know what it means to have a great year here. We think we have a group to do that.”
This weekend will be the first of many times the Nordiques will see the Generals this season, as the teams are scheduled to meet 16 times.
Last year, the two Nordiques and Generals combined to score 11 or more goals five times, with Northeast winning four of those high-scoring contests.
Howe said that whether this weekend’s games are shootouts or defensive stalemates, what matters is that the Nordiques put at least one more puck in the net.
“The point of the game is to have more on the board than they do at the end of the (game),” Howe said. “We want to make sure we have one more than they do, but we certainly want to play better in those five-man units and giving our goaltending some support. We know they will be a team that will aggressive and finish their checks, try to get us off our skill and puck possession game by being physical. We got to be physically and mentally prepared for the battle and not get away from what we want to do.“
Stefan Owens, one of Maine’s returning players, is confident in the team heading into the season opener.
“I think we have a little bit better team (than last year), and I think we will be more competitive, for sure,” Owens said. “Hopefully not allow as many goals as we did last year, but it’s definitely something to build off of. “
The games will be closed to the public because of the state of Maine’s indoor gathering limits. Fans can still enjoy the games this weekend, though, as the Nordiques are turning the Colisee’s parking lot into a drive-in.
“With the COVID restrictions, obviously we have to take a different tactic to fan entertainment,” Maine Nordiques owner Darryl Antonacci said. “What we have done is planned for an outdoor drive in and for our home-opener we will have a 33-foot screen outdoors that will be tied to our HockeyTV feed live, with Nick Withee announcing. That will go with an FM broadcaster to all the cars.”
The cost for the drive-in will be $25 per vehicle, with up to six people allowed in each vehicle. Fans can signup at https://bit.ly/Colisee-Registration.
TAKE TWO FOR THUNDER
The Twin City Thunder will also have their National Collegiate Development Conference home and season opener this weekend when they host the expansion Boston Advantage to Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn on Saturday.
The Thunder were scheduled to open the season two weeks ago against the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, but the games had to be postponed because the Thunder had a few players test postitive for COVID-19.
The team also had their games at last week’s showcase postponed to fulfill a required two-week quarantine.
Thursday was the team’s first time on the ice in two weeks.
“We are excited to back, it’s our first day being back and the guys had a good skate today,” Thunder co-owner and coach Dan Hodge said. “We have a big game Saturday and a big test. It’s always good to be playing, and hopefully we come out on the good end Saturday.”
Hodge said the entire team tested negative this week.
The Advantage haven’t played a game yet this season.
“It’s one of those things where we are are all on the same page, same level,” Hodge said. “No one has played any games, really, so it’s a first for everybody.”
The players are ready to go.
“It feels really good finally getting back on the ice,” Thunder forward Sergei Anisimov said. “Two weeks during the season is like a month during the offseason. It’s quite a (long) time, but it’s good to be back on the ice. I did some conditioning during the break, so I am not that tired.”