First place in Eastern Maine Class A will be on the line at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when the top two teams in the class, Lewiston and Bangor, will square off at Bangor’s Sawyer Arena.

Lewiston took an 11-3-1 record into a Wednesday night game against Gray-New Gloucester/Poland while Bangor is 12-2 following Tuesday night’s 2-1 win at Waterville.

Thursday night’s game will be Lewiston’s third in four nights and is a makeup for Saturday’s game that was postponed due to a snowstorm.

Bangor has won four in a row since dropping a 5-2 decision at Lewiston on Jan. 21.

Lewiston had an eight-game winning streak snapped in an 8-4 loss to defending two-time state champion Thornton Academy of Saco on Monday night in Lewiston.

Both teams will be without some key players.

All-state center Parker Sanderson, Bangor’s leading scorer, will be sidelined by a cut to his leg sustained in last Wednesday’s 4-2 win over G-NG/Poland. Bangor coach Quinn Paradis said Sanderson could be back for Saturday’s home game with Edward Little of Auburn or the Alfond Arena showdown with archrival Brewer on Monday night.

Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau said his team will be without two injured players, a forward and a defenseman, but he preferred not to reveal their names.

“We’re going to have to play well in the defensive zone,” said Paradis whose Rams allowed three goals in a 22-second span in their last meeting. “We learned a lot from that game. We’ve changed up our defensive zone coverages. They scored most of their goals from the high slot. We’ve got to shut down their offense.”

He said Lewiston is a quick team with balanced scoring, a strong defense and a good goaltender in senior Evan Bourassa.

Belleau said his team knows it will be challenged.

“It’s going to be a tough game. Bangor’s on a roll. They’ve won a lot of games. They’re an older team. They’re fast and explosive,” said Belleau.

In addition to Sanderson, Bangor has been led by Jordan Tracy, Zach Papsadora and Zeb Tuell along with Cam Dickson. Junior Rye Powell has been solid in net.

Lewiston features Kyle Lemelin, Patrick DeBlois and Matt Poulin along with Bourassa. Poulin had two goals in the win over Bangor.

Orono regains suspended players

Orono High School coach Greg Hirsch said his team developed some valuable depth over the last two weeks.

The Red Riots were without six skaters who were suspended for two weeks and five games due to an off-ice incident which involved underage drinking at an Orono student’s home near Pushaw Lake.

That left the Red Riots with 11 players including two goalies during a 1-3-1 stretch.

The six players returned to the lineup for Wednesday night’s game at Presque Isle but Hirsch missed the game because he was on his way back from a pharmaceutical convention in Atlanta.

Long-time assistants Blair Marsh and Chris Thurlow coached the team.

“The kids played their tails off [during the 1-3-1 stretch] and picked up some important points,” said Hirsch referring to the 4-3 win over Lawrence of Fairfield and 1-1 overtime tie with Class A playoff team Skowhegan.

Hirsch said the five-game stretch was “really good for us” in that it enabled him to evaluate players and see who should have their roles enhanced as they close in on the playoffs.

He said a couple of players, sophomore left wing Seamus McKaig and junior right wing Nash Allan-Rahill “really stepped forward” and have earned a promotion to second-line duty.

McKaig had been on the third line and Allan-Rahill bounced between the second and third lines.

“Seamus was a workhorse and was strong on the puck and we need guys who are strong on the puck right now,” said Hirsch. “And Nash worked real hard.”

He said another bright spot was the play of senior goalie Mike Brown.

“He stood on his head. He kept us in games. He gave us the opportunity to win games,” said Hirsch.

He said he and the rest of the team are glad the suspended players are back and feels they paid their dues for their mistake. There won’t be any further punishment.

Coaches favor merger

Old Town first-year coach Ryan Bernard and Hirsch are in favor of a proposed co-op hockey team between the two schools next season.

Orono has low numbers and Hirsch said they wouldn’t be able to field a team next season “unless something crazy were to happen and Orono got a huge influx of kids.”

Bernard said, “Most of my players are in favor of it and most of the boosters are for it. These kids grew up playing together (growing up).”

Administrators in both schools have met about the proposed merger and will continue to do so.

Bernard’s Coyotes haven’t won a game yet this season, going 0-13, but he said the players have worked hard and are developing.