BIDDEFORD, Maine — In 1977, a fledgling Biddeford High School hockey team played a game against perennial power Lewiston.
The result was an eye-opener to many, a 4-4 tie that was created when senior Steve Fleurent scored a game-tying goal for Biddeford with 13 seconds remaining.
“It was great,” said Fleurent. “The paper (the next day) said, ‘Biddeford beats Lewiston with 4-4 tie.’ ”
In the generation since, it’s no longer become shocking when the Tigers win — or tie — big games. The opening of the Biddeford Ice Arena in 1991; a geographically ideal rivalry with Thornton Academy, located just over the Saco River; and a thriving youth program have made the town synonymous with hockey, even with a relatively late start.
“Youth hockey has always been huge around here,” said Rich Reissfelder, the coach at Biddeford High School. “For a long time, Biddeford had the only rink in southern Maine.”
The Tigers won three Maine Class A championships in a four-year span between 2007 and 2010. They also have a great local-boy-makes-good story in defenseman Brian Dumoulin, a second-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2009 who starred at Boston College and is now playing in the AHL in the Pittsburgh Penguins system.
Dumoulin played on back-to-back state title teams in Biddeford. As a junior, he was the catalyst for an undefeated season, racking up 13 goals and 61 points in just 24 games.
“Everyone knows about him,” said Reissfelder. “Everybody knows what number he wore (No. 4). My own son comes in the locker room and says, ‘Wow. Brian Dumoulin used to be in here.’ He left quite a legacy.”
The winning didn’t stop there. The next year, he teamed up with another Biddeford native, coach Sean Tremblay of the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, and that team won a Tier 3 Junior A national championship. He’d follow that up with two more national titles playing for Boston College.
In Biddeford, one of Dumoulin’s teammates was Tyler Fleurent — Steve’s oldest son — who this season was an assistant captain across town at the University of New England. Middle brother Trevor Fleurent is attending the school next year, and youngest brother Brady Fleurent is a senior this year at Biddeford High.
The growth of a fledgling varsity program at the University of New England has produced a second rink in town, the $20 million Harold Alfond Forum. The Nor’easters, who concluded this past season 6-17-2 — finishing out of the basement in the ECAC East for the first time — played their first three seasons at the Biddeford Ice Arena.
The Alfond Forum is a 106,500-square foot, on-campus facility that includes a 900-seat arena, a performance court and a multipurpose indoor court, and should be a recruiting asset for years to come.
“Ridiculously beautiful,” said UNE coach Brad Holt (Dover, N.H.). “No more 6 a.m. practices. Now it’s 4 to 6 in the afternoon, and there are classrooms where we can watch game film.”
This year, the school fielded a women’s varsity team for the first time. Predictably, it took its lumps, going 1-10 overall, and hopes to have an affiliation in the ECAC East secured for 2014-15.
“I think we’re in a good place,” said UNE women’s coach Erin Whitten Hamlen, the former New Hampshire star. “I think we’re going to make some noise very quickly.”
Steve Fleurent can tell you how hockey success doesn’t happen overnight. He was among the first wave of Biddeford Youth Hockey players, a program created when Riverside Arena in nearby Portland opened some 40 years ago. The core of that first group played together growing up and was the backbone of the first Biddeford High School varsity team in 1977.
The state’s established powers, like Lewiston, St. Dom’s and Waterville, didn’t think Biddeford would be competitive enough and wouldn’t initially let the team in the league. It wasn’t until a couple years later that the state set up A and B classifications.
“It took off right after I left,” said Steve Fleurent.
Jimmy Gunn was a two-time All-State player at Biddeford who was part of a Division 3 national championship team at Babson. Tremblay went on to tremendous success coaching the Jr. Monarchs before moving this year to the Middlesex Islanders. Casey LaFlamme (1998), Tony Dube (2008) and Trevor Fleurent (2010) all won the Travis Roy Award, presented annually to Maine’s best high school player.
Jamie Gagnon played at Biddeford and coached the Tigers to state titles in 2007 and ’08 before moving across the river to Thornton Academy, where he guided that program to Class A championships in 2011 and ’12.
Neither team is being mentioned among the favorites for this year’s title, but the rivalry has been established as one of the best in the state, up there with Lewiston vs. St. Dom’s and Bangor vs. Brewer.
“The rivalry’s unbelievable,” said Reissfelder. “It doesn’t matter where the teams are. There were years that Thornton Academy was pretty good and Biddeford was down, but the games were always phenomenal.”
Hockey history in Biddeford isn’t too bad, either.
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.