February 27

HIGH SCHOOL BOYS HOCKEY: Samson adjusts, then shines, to new role

The Waterville forward leads the Panthers’ second line skating with a pair of freshmen.

By Bill Stewart bstewart@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Tommy Samson had a plan, a vision really, for how his final hockey season at Waterville Senior High School would play out.

click image to enlarge

LEADER OF THE LINE: Waterville forward Thomas Samson, 12, was moved to the second line midway through the season. It was a good move for Sampson, who is third on the team with 21 points.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

PROFILE: TOMMY SAMSON

School: Waterville

Sport: Hockey

Position: Forward

Stats: 9 goals and 12 assists for 21 points

He’d skate with fellow seniors on a top line, put up some points, and help the Purple Panthers snap a two-year playoff drought.

Well, Samson did put up some points — 21 to be exact — and Waterville (11-7-1) did make the playoffs.

The No. 3 Purple Panthers will play Presque Isle (12-5-1) in an Eastern B semifinal game Saturday at 5 p.m. at Sukee Arena.

But the skating-with-the-seniors thing?

Didn’t happen.

Midway through the season, roster changes and injuries forced coach Dennis Martin to tinker with his lines.

Chris Lee, Michael Oliveira and Nick Denis were paired together on the top line. Martin then teamed Samson up with a pair of freshmen, Dalton Henderson and Justin Wentworth.

“We decided to try it,” Martin said. “We had to make some changes and this seemed like a good fit.”

The new line took Samson — who is third on the team with 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) — by surprise.

“It was a little different,” he said. “Going into the season I had a little different mentality. I thought I’d be playing with a couple other seniors, but then a couple things changed and I ended up skating with a couple freshmen who I didn’t even think I’d be with.

“I hadn’t even heard their names before.”

It took some time for the new linemates to develop the right chemistry.

“It was a little weird at first,” Wentworth acknowledged. “Dalton and I, we played bantams together so we knew each other. Our first game with (Samson) was a little weird. It was a communication thing.”

Added Samson: “I didn’t really talk to them. I didn’t get too involved with them. I thought everything was going to be different. I was thinking that if I had freshman on my line I wouldn’t even be able to play. I wasn’t sure if I could play to my abilities. But I like how it all turned out for us. These guys are good players.”

The combinations helped spark Waterville as it surged toward a playoff berth in its first season in Eastern B.

Lee, Denis and Oliveira started putting up big numbers. Denis leads the team with 33 points (21 goals, 12 assists) while Lee is second with 30 (11-19).

Samson emerged as a leader on a second line, which began to produce as well.

“Tommy also is probably our best defensive forward,” Martin said. “He’s one of the hardest working players, too. He really stepped up for us. He leads that line and is playing really well.”

Added Lee: “He’s the grinder on the team. He goes into corners and the puck always seems to find him. He gets those garbage goals out front, which is what we really need. He knows how to play the game. He put the freshmen under his wing. He showed them how to play. He settled them in, and now we have two solid lines in the playoffs.”

Wentworth said he’s learned a lot from Samson, from positioning to shooting.

“He’s been an awesome teammate,” he said. “He’s a great leader of the line. He shows us what to do. If we do something wrong, he corrects us. I’ve learned a lot. He’s taught me how to get a harder shot, how to handle the puck better and where to be on the ice.”

The Purple Panthers split their two regular season meetings with the Wildcats. The victor Saturday will advance to the regional championship game Tuesday at the University of Maine.

That, too, is also part of Samson’s plan.

“When you look at Waterville you think of Denis and Lee,” he said. “I don’t mind being the underdog. I know I help my team. I am like the playmaker. You have to have two lines, too. I understand that. If we can break up the seniors to have two decent lines, I’m cool with that. I’m just trying to play to the best of my abilities.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640 bstewart@centralmaine.com Twitter: @billstewartkj
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