Fighting Spirit set to make Lewiston/Auburn debut
February 6, 2015
By Mike Kraft, Sun Journal
The Lewiston/Auburn area got its first look at the front office of its new junior hockey team in mid-December.
Now they get the chance to see what its new team can do on the ice as the NA3EHL's New Hampshire Fighting Spirit make a late-season trip to their future home to host a two-game series with the Lockport Express. They'll play tonight at 7 p.m. and at noon on Sunday.
"You're going to get a battle of two teams that are having a good year," Fighting Spirit coach Rod Simmons said. "The excitement level's there. We have to keep our players well-grounded and hopefully everything works out."
Simmons has been at the helm for all three years of the team's existence, which began in Lake George, N.Y., in 2012. The team has since moved to New Hampshire, spending last year in Waterville Valley and this year in Laconia. Simmons has been through it all and established respect from his players during his time behind the bench.
"He's a great coach," Fighting Spirit defenseman Grant Lundquist said. "He's a strong leader and he gets everybody in line when he needs to. That's one of the main reasons for our success because everyone's on the same page. There's no individuals. We're a team."
Maine's latest North American 3 Eastern Hockey League team, which will be known as the L-A Fighting Spirit beginning in the 2015-16 season, enters the weekend series atop the Eastern Division with 51 points, seven points ahead of the New England Stars. The Fighting Spirit (25-4-1) have won 21 of their past 24 games.
This is New Hampshire's first home game in Maine, but it's not their first trip to the Pine Tree state. The Fighting Spirit have played three games in Biddeford this season against the Maine Wild, winning all three.
Fans should expect to see some offensive fireworks as the Fighting Spirit and Express boast two of the top three scoring offenses in the league. New Hampshire enters third in scoring at 4.3 goals per game, while Lockport is second at 5.1.
Leading the charge for the Fighting Spirit are forwards Alex Peddle and Brett Bittner. Both are Canadian products — Peddle hails from Labrador City, Newfoundland, and Bittner grew up in Calgary, Alberta. Peddle leads the team in scoring with 38 points (18 goals, 20 assists). He has three hat tricks and five multi-goal games.
Bittner has a team-high 20 goals — eight on the power play — and is second on the team with 37 points. He's scored a goal in four of his last six games. Peddle and Bittner are 12th and 13th, respectively, in league scoring.
"They're young guys that have a ways to go, but definitely have upside. They play both ends of the ice hard," Simmons said. "They can play the puck and can shoot the puck really well. They're very smart young men, smart hockey players."
New Hampshire has five skaters with at least 20 points this season.
They can put up goals, but the Fighting Spirit pride themselves on their defense. Built from the goaltenders out, New Hampshire has a pair of netminders who've had plenty of success keeping the puck out of their cage. Simmons likes to rotate his goaltenders on a nightly basis, swapping between Adam Higdon and Claes Endre.
Both Higdon and Endre have proven worthy of equal playing time as they share nearly identical statistics. Higden is 12-1-1 with a 1.72 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. Endre is 11-3, sporting a 1.90 GAA and a .932 save percentage. Their GAA is 1-2 in the league.
"They fit our system," Simmons said. "They bought in as goaltenders. They communicate well with the guys we have at the defensive end and they're pretty cool, calm and collected."