PORTLAND—It would have been understandable if the Cheverus boys’ hockey team got caught looking ahead Wednesday afternoon, but these Stags learned a year ago that you always have to take care of business in the playoffs.
Even against a foe you beat by 10 goals a few weeks ago.
In last year’s quarterfinals, Cheverus was stunned by Noble/Wells and with a potential rematch just 45 minutes away, the second-ranked Stags weren’t about to experience a letdown when they faced No. 7 Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills in a Western Class A quarterfinal at Troubh Arena.
It took just 24 seconds for the Stags to take the lead for good on a goal from senior captain James Kane and that opened the floodgates.
By the time the first period was over, the lead was 5-0, thanks to subsequent goals from senior Quintin Farr, junior Chris Vallee, senior Alex Libby and senior Nick Noyes.
Little changed in the second period, as Cheverus took advantage of a major penalty on the Ice Cats and added four more goals, including a natural hat trick from senior captain James Hannigan and a tally from junior Matthew Dilios.
A rebound goal from senior captain Keegan Thomas five minutes into the third period induced a running clock and while the Ice Cats did get on the board with 5:36 to play, the Stags added two more goals, as senior Jean Claude Lemieux and sophomore Kieran Conley did the honors, and Cheverus went on to a 12-1 victory.
Ten different Stags tickled the twine, with Hannigan leading the way with three goals, as Cheverus improved to 12-5-2, ended Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills’ season at 10-9 and advanced to take on No. 3 Noble/Wells (16-3) in the Western A semifinals Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Colisee in Lewiston.
“I was nervous before the game,” said Stags coach Dan Lucas. “You never know what might happen. Getting a goal right off the bat sometimes isn’t a good thing. You have to play your game and carry play. We took advantage of our opportunities and didn’t let up.”
After an impressive 11-5-2 regular season, capped by a palpitating 1-0 home win over Scarborough, Cheverus qualified for the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills, meanwhile, went 10-8.
In the lone regular season encounter, Jan. 31 in Portland, the Stags cruised to a 10-0 win behind eight different scorers (Noyes and Thomas both had two goals), a performance which foreshadowed Wednesday’s events.
As expected, Cheverus quickly ended all doubt Wednesday in the first ever postseason meeting between the teams.
An initial shot by Kane deflected in for a 1-0 lead just 24 seconds into the contest. Junior Luke Trickey was given an assist.
“It’s very important to get off to a good start in a big game, to get that edge,” Kane said. “We just had to play as a team and move the puck and put it in the net. I shot the puck and it got deflected and it went in.”
The Ice Cats had a good chance to tie with 7:09 to play in the first period when Peter Misner broke in free, but he shot high.
Then, the goals came fast and furious.
Just 24 seconds later, Farr scored his goal, assisted by Vallee and freshman Jesse Pierce.
With 2:38 left in the first, Pierce set up Vallee, who skated right in and finished for a 3-0 lead.
The fourth goal came with 1:07 to go, as Libby (from Lemieux and Kane) tickled the twine.
Then, with 25.3 seconds to go in the first, Noyes skated around the goal and tucked the puck home to give Cheverus a commanding a 5-0 lead.
When Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills’ Huxley Lovering was given a major penalty 2 minutes, 49 seconds into the second period, the Stags went on a five-minute power play and they would score three times.
The first goal of the period was Hannigan’s first of the game, set up by Kane, with 10:54 remaining in the second.
Just 36 seconds later, Dilios got in the scoresheet to make it 7-0.
The Stags then had a two-man advantage and with 9:19 left in the period, Hannigan got his second goal of the night (from Trickey).
Hannigan completed his natural hat trick with 4:34 remaining in the second, finishing a feed from junior Jesse Cyr-Brophy, and Cheverus had a 9-0 lead.
“My linemates and the defensemen who were out there set me up,” Hannigan said. “I put the puck in the net when I needed to. Our mentality was to get up on them early.”
“Sometimes he gets frustrated trying to do it all by himself, but he’s settled in and he’s taking advantage of the other guys,” Lucas said.
The Stags then put the finishing touches on their win in the third period.
With 9:55 to play, Thomas, who had hit the crossbar late in the second period, finished (from Lemieux) and that made it 10-0 and due to the mercy rule, the clock ran.
The Ice Cats did get on the board with 5:36 to play, when Ethan Green stole the puck and finished, but Cheverus got tallies from Lemieux (from Farr, on the power play) with 4:01 to go and Conley on a rebound (Thomas and Libby were given assists) with 2:39 remaining.
Cheverus then ran out the clock on its 12-1 victory.
“We had to forget the last time we played them and treat it like it was Scarborough or Biddeford,” Kane said. “We knew we were done if we lost. We’re very deep. All 12 players on all four lines can score.”
“I didn’t think we’d have a letdown tonight,” Hannigan said. “We’re a very confident team. It’s so awesome to see how much better we are now than we were at the beginning of the season. At the beginning, there was really only one line scoring, but we made some changes. The other guys have gotten more confidence. Everyone is scoring. The chemistry has progressed through the year. I believe in these guys to the end.”
“We got kids to play who hadn’t gotten ice time,” Lucas added. “That fourth line moved the puck pretty well. Overall, I think we have a little more unity this year. We have more seniors. We pound into their heads that they may never be in this situation again. There’s nothing to save it for. We have to have all cylinders going. We’re a skating team. If we don’t skate, we’ll get hurt. When we skate well, we have good games.”
Cheverus will go to Lewiston Saturday to face a Noble/Wells squad which upset the Stags, 4-3, in last year’s quarterfinals. The teams didn’t play during the regular season. Noble/Wells held off No. 6 South Portland, 6-3, in its quarterfinal Tuesday.
Cheverus is only taking part in the semifinals for the second time since winning back-to-back Class A crowns in 2005 and 2006.
The Stags have a golden opportunity to move into the regional final for the first time in nine years (two-time defending champion Falmouth and Scarborough meet in the other semifinal) and plan to seize it.
“I look forward to it,” Kane said. “We’ve thought about (last season’s loss) all year. Now it’s time to do something about it. We have to play smart, stay out of the penalty box and play as a team.”
“(Last year’s) been in the forefront of my mind since I figured out Noble was in our bracket,” Hannigan said. “I figured they’d beat South Portland and I thought we’d beat Lake Region and meet them in Lewiston. Last year, we took way too many penalties. We dominated the whole game, but they got power play goals left and right. It’s been in my mind ever since. It was devastating. We have to do what we did today. Keep it simple and not make mistakes. If we work hard and keep our heads, we’ll be fine. We’re a year older and stronger this year. We’ll play our game and take it to them.”
“We get Cheverus’ name in the conversation again,” Lucas added. “It’s good to hear other coaches throw your name in the mix again. We have to be ready. They took it to us last year. They have guys who can put the puck in the net. We have a couple days to get ready. There’s a lot of excitement left.”