For players on the John Bapst Memorial High School boys hockey team, losses have fueled their motivation.
They were upset about being ousted from the Class B North quarterfinals by eventual regional champ Camden Hills of Rockport last season and then losing to Old Town-Orono 4-3 in their second regular season game this season.
Since then, the Crusaders have soared to the top of the B North Heal Points standings with their 9-2 record. They displaced Messalonskee of Oakland atop the standings with a 3-0 road win over the Eagles last week.
Clockwise, from left: John Bapst senior Carter Walls takes a shot on goal during a game against Presque Isle on Wednesday at Sawyer Arena in Bangor; John Bapst goalie Gavin Bartlett makes a save in a game against Presque Isle on Wednesday; John Bapst’s Caleb Robbins and Presque Isle’s Cooper Boinske collide during a game on Wednesday at Sawyer Arena in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
The Crusaders have seven regular season games remaining before the playoffs. Their goal is to win the school’s first hockey state championship.
“That was a huge win, especially at their place,” said John Bapst senior center and assistant captain Carter Walls. “If we can beat them, we can beat anybody.”
Walls said that the team sold itself short last season by losing in the first round of the playoffs.
“We were all motivated to come back harder this year and that’s what we’re doing,” Walls added.
“That created a little fire in the bellies of these guys,” said fourth-year head coach Devin Fitzpatrick.
Walls did not play in the Old Town-Orono loss and senior goalie Gavin Bartlett said the rest of them “didn’t show up“ either, based on the way they underperformed.
“[Old Town-Orono] stuck it to us. They played the game of their lives. After that game, we knew we couldn’t just show up and expect to win. We have to work for it,” Bartlett said.
John Bapst has since won eight of its last nine games, with the only loss coming to Class A Bangor 3-0.
The Crusaders, who went 9-7-1 during the regular season last year, have outscored their opponents 70-18.
“We have been outworking teams,” said senior center and assistant captain Aiden Dunn. “We have a lot of skill as well but it’s about how we use it now.”
The team only lost two players off last year’s roster while some of the other B North teams were hit hard by graduation. Fitzpatrick has 11 seniors.
Walls, Bartlett and Dunn said they are definitely a better team this season.
“We got a lot of experience last year. That’s the key. We’re all faster, stronger and deeper,” said Walls, who leads the team in scoring with 21 goals and 14 assists in just nine games.
Brewer coach Lance Ingerson commended John Bapst’s first and second lines.
“They’re fast and they move the puck very well,” Ingerson said.
Old Town-Orono coach Chris Thurlow called them a “pretty deep” team.
“They transition the puck really well. Walls is the fastest player in the league and he has such a quick release on his shot, he can beat goalies at this level pretty regularly,” said Thurlow, who coached Walls for two seasons when he played for Old Town-Orono before transferring to John Bapst.
Walls is “probably the best player in the league,” according to Presque Isle coach Carl Flynn.
“I’m not worrying about how many points I get, I’m just trying to win games. If you do that, the points will come,” Walls said.
Fitzpatrick said he has two legitimate scoring lines and a resourceful third line that gets a regular shift with either Walls or Dunn centering it.
Will Bourgeois (10 goals, 6 assists) and Nate Tibbits (5 & 5) flank Walls on one line and Dunn (10 & 10) has Lucas Gagnon (11 & 12) and Curtis Brown (6 & 7) on his wings.
“Having two top lines we can rotate through really gives us an advantage over a lot of teams that don’t have that depth,” Dunn said.
Clockwise, from left: Credit: John Bapst’s Carter Walls and Presque Isle’s Garett LeTourneau watch for a flying puck to hit the ice during a game against Presque Isle on Wednesday at Sawyer Arena in Bangor; John Bapst’s Curtis Brown skates with the puck during a game against Presque Isle on Wednesday at Sawyer Arena in Bangor; John Bapst senior Aiden Dunn skates with the puck during a game against Presque Isle on Wednesday at Sawyer Arena in Bangor. Bapst won the game 5-3. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Owen Marryatt (1 & 1) and Hunter Higgins (1 & 0) are the wings on the third line.
The Crusaders have a steady and experienced defense corps headed up by tri-captain Caleb Robbins (3 & 16 in 8 games).
Nick Needham (0 points) is paired with Robbins while Dylan Sawyer (0 & 1) is partnered up with Emery Audibert (0 & 1). Silas Comstock (0 & 1) also plays a regular shift and freshman Cooper Lewis (1 & 1) has also been getting playing time.
Bartlett has posted a 1.84 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. He has four shutouts.
“He has been our brick wall. He has come a long way and has worked really hard to be where he is at,” Fitzpatrick said.
Bartlett said that his biggest area of improvement has been the mental aspect of the game.
“You have to show up mentally to every game and, if you have a bad night, you have to be able to bounce back,” said Bartlett, a three-year starter.
The goalie also said facing his own team’s shooters in practice has been beneficial.
“If I can stop the puck against them, I can stop it against anyone,” he said.