The Maine Line

Lifelong Friends Create Lasting Legacy As State’s Most Prolific High School Trio

 

In Presque Isle, Maine, a town of about 9,000, everyone knows everyone. But within that small-town dynamic, three families are more connected than most and it’s all thanks to hockey.

Meet the trio of Connor DeMerchant, Colby Carlisle and Gage LeTourneau, players on the Presque Isle Wildcats hockey team and the top line in all of Maine high school hockey. 

“Coaches that have coached against them have described them as the top line. I don’t think there is any line that has three kids that are so talented all playing together,” says Wildcats head coach Carl Flynn.

Their journey to high school stardom has its roots in kindergarten, when LeTourneau recalls they first became friends. An unshakeable brotherhood formed almost instantly.

“Some kids play on teams where they don’t really know anyone,” DeMerchant says. “To grow up with my best friends and play on the same line is pretty special.”

As with most tightknit hockey communities, their bond – and that of their families – extends beyond the walls of the rink. From carpooling to practices and games to carb nights at Carlisle’s house, LeTourneau says he went from having one mom to having three. 

“It really creates a sense of brotherly love between us and creates lifelong friends as well as great hockey buddies,” Carlisle says. “When I go out on the ice and play with them, it’s just fun.”

Playing together for so long has not only kept the game fun but their contributions to the team have earned them quite the reputation of a force to be reckoned with in a state where basketball is king and hockey often plays second fiddle.

“Connor, he’s the right winger on that line. His freshman year, when he didn’t have these other two around, he really proved what a great hockey player he was because he didn’t have a lot of support and had to do things himself. He’s taken the team on his shoulders; he’s the captain, he’s a senior and that’s what he should do,” Flynn says.

“Colby, a junior, he’s a true student of the game,” Flynn continues. “He’s never looking for his own betterment, but the betterment of the team. As the centerman, he’s kind of the engine that gets that line going.

“And then Gage, also a junior, he’s the flashiest and the most dynamic of the three of them,” Flynn concludes. “If there’s going to be a highlight reel goal scored, it’s probably going to be him. He’s physically conditioned like no kid I’ve ever seen before. Off the ice, he’s also probably one of the highest GPAs in the league.”

Put the three of them together and you have the best high school line in the state of Maine. Carlisle and LeTourneau finished the regular season with 62 points apiece, and DeMerchant wasn’t far behind with 56.

In three years together, Presque Isle’s first line has not only succeeded on and off the ice – winning a state championship in soccer in 2018 – but they’ve cemented their place in Wildcats’ history.

DeMerchant, Carlisle and LeTourneau all surpassed the 100 point-mark this season. First came Connor, in December, then Gage and Colby joined him in January. 

This wasn’t the first time a Carlisle name appeared on the list of 100-point scorers for Presque Isle. Colby’s dad, Doug Carlisle, and his uncle, Darren Carlisle, were among the inaugural players to a club that now has 15 members. 

“It feels surreal from when I was a kid and we thought about all these achievements, and then you get to that point and I’m like wow, I can’t believe I did it, and I’m doing it with my best friends,” Carlisle says.

Unlike most teams, the Wildcats were able to finish their season shortly before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled most sports leagues. Presque Isle finished 12-5-1 in the regular season and secured the No. 4 seed in the regional tournament. They upset the No. 1 seed Hampden Academy in the semifinals before losing 6-2 to Old Town-Orono in the championship.

With DeMerchant graduating this year, it wasn’t the end he had envisioned. His buddies will take the ice as seniors next season, hoping for a different outcome but playing without a vital piece of their line for the first time in practically forever. As for whoever will fill void, there are a few options, including some familiar names.

“Connor has a younger brother, Quinn, on our second line and then Colby has a younger brother, Ethan, who was a freshman on our third line this year,” Flynn says, weighing options that include familial ties to his top players. “And Gage has a younger brother, Garrett, who will be coming in as a freshman next year and I’m told is already gifted.”

The trio will spend the summer together before DeMerchant moves on to play with the Twin City Thunder of the USPHL. Carrying on the legacy will be left to the upcoming seniors, who will be counting down the days until they can still hit the ice together.

“It’ll be weird without him on the ice,” LeTourneau says. “He brings a lot of intensity to the game and lot of leadership.”

“It’s sad to see him go,” Carlisle agrees. “We’ve spent our whole lives together, almost every night during the winter and then in other sports as well. People have talked about how we can just see each other on the ice without looking so it’s going to be different to have someone else in that spot.”

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