Cheverus senior Ryan McSorley, right, and junior Luke Church celebrate a second period goal during the Stags’ 5-2 victory over South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete in a Class A South quarterfinal Wednesday. The Stags advanced to meet Scarborough in Saturday’s semifinal round.
Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—There are no style points in playoff hockey.
Winning and advancing is all that matters and that simple formula was good enough for the Cheverus Stags in Wednesday afternoon’s Class A South boys’ hockey quarterfinal against a valiant South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete co-op squad, which gave the Stags all they could handle for 45 minutes at Troubh Ice Arena.
Cheverus, which won the regular season meeting by 10 goals, expected to coast to victory and when junior David Woodford scored on a rebound at the 7 minute mark of the first period, the Stags appeared on their way, but South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete answered with 2:40 to play in the first period, when freshman Devan Hannan scored on a breakaway.
Cheverus reasserted control a mere 14 seconds into the second period, when senior Ryan McSorley scored and McSorley added a second goal 12:20 to play, but thanks to the stellar goalkeeping of senior Joe Grant, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete stayed in the game.
Then, a little over two minutes into the third period, freshman Gus Lappin scored to make it a one-goal game, but the Stags didn’t buckle and with 7:57 left, McSorley set up sophomore Colby Anton for some breathing room and late in regulation, junior Jesse Pierce added an empty net tally to put it away and give Cheverus a 5-2 victory.
The Stags improved to 14-5, ended South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete’s season at 7-11-1 and advanced to meet No. 3 Scarborough (11-7-1) in the semifinals Saturday evening in Lewiston at a time to be announced.
“We knew that if we came out and played our game, we should be able to win, but we took them lightly to start,” McSorley said. “We started to pick it up as the game went on.”
Cheverus has enjoyed a very strong season this winter, overcoming a 2-3 start by going 11-2 down the stretch, beating every team it faced at least once, except top-ranked Falmouth and defending state champion Lewiston, to wind up with the No. 2 seed in Class A South (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete won just one of its first seven games, but came on in the second half of the season to garner the final playoff spot in the region.
The Stags took the only prior playoff encounter, a 4-3 decision in the 2004 Western A quarterfinals. On Jan. 7, in the teams’ lone regular season meeting, Cheverus rolled, 10-0.
Wednesday’s contest was closer, but the Stags had what it took to advance.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete indicated early that it had come to play, frustrating Cheverus for over six minutes before the Stags finally broke through.
At the seven minute mark, sophomore Riley McCauley got the puck to Pierce and his shot was saved by Grant, but the rebound came to Woodford, who sent it into the net for a 1-0 lead.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete didn’t hang its head and almost countered with 6:56 left in the first, when Lappin broke in, but junior goalie Jason Halverson made the save to protect the lead.
Halverson wasn’t as fortunate the next time, as with 2:40 remaining, Hannan stole the puck, raced in alone and when Halverson came out to challenge, Hannan deked the goalie, got around him and buried the shot with the back-hand to tie it, 1-1.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete then went on the power play with a chance to take the lead, but only managed one shot, from Hannan, and Halverson made the save to keep the game tied going to the first intermission.
The Stags had the majority of the possession in the first period, but Grant held them in check.
“(Grant) played unbelievable that first period when we had the puck in their zone for 11 minutes,” said Cheverus coach Dan Lucas.
In the second period, Cheverus got some breathing room.
Just 14 seconds into the new period, junior Marco Giancotti got the puck to McSorley racing up the right side and McSorley beat Grant top shelf for a 2-1 lead.
“I won the faceoff to Hatch, Hatch got it to Marco and he passed it to (junior Luke) Church, but Church got hit hard and the puck popped to my stick,” McSorley said. “I looked for Colby and he wasn’t open, so I figured I’d shoot myself. I had the goalie going one way and put it up high the other way.”
“McSorley set the tone for us with that goal,” Lucas said. “That’s what a leader does. He’s not the fastest kid in the world, but he plays good positional hockey.”
After South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete sophomore Mitchell Adams was sent to the penalty box for tripping, the Stags struck again with 12:20 to go.
Just as the penalty was set to expire, junior Mike Hatch ripped a shot from just inside the blue line and McSorley was able to tip it past Grant for a 3-1 lead.
“Hatch had the puck at the point and I know he has a great shot, so I figured I’d get in front of the net and screen the goalie,” McSorley said. “I got lucky and it hit me and it went in.”
After a penalty on Cheverus senior Sean Walsh for roughing, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete hoped to answer, but Lappin shot high and a bid from junior Caleb Rowland was saved by Halverson.
Late in the period, Grant denied junior Cam Dube and made a kick save on a shot from Pierce and Halverson made a save on a bid from sophomore Dylan Houle to keep the score 3-1 heading to the third period.
Where the Stags eventually put it away.
Walsh was sent off for hooking just 32 seconds into the third and the visitors struck to make things very interesting, as Lappin scored (from junior Max Winson), cutting the deficit to 3-2.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete had one chance to tie, as Winson tried a wrap-around shot with 11:08 left, but Halverson made the save.
Then, with 7:57 to play, McSorley set up Anson for some breathing room and a 4-2 lead.
After Giancotti broke up a rush from Adams, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete pulled Grant and with 22.6 seconds left, Pierce slammed the door with an empty net goal and Cheverus went on to the 5-2 victory.
“We have a good group of guys who won’t quit and that showed in the third period,” said McSorley. “It’s playoff hockey and we know every team wants to play their best and win. We didn’t feel nervous. We knew we could win.”
“I knew (South Portland would) be tougher and we played down and that’s what happens,” Lucas said. “We had to stay within ourselves and it worked out.”
The Stags had a 42-20 shots advantage and got 18 saves from Halverson.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete was paced by 37 saves from Grant and was within a goal midway through the third period, but despite a great effort, its season came to a close.
“I’m very proud of the guys,” said South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete coach Joe Robinson. “They shouldn’t hang their heads. I tell the guys if you go 100 miles per hour and you’re physical, you’ll create space and we did that. We didn’t quit. They’re a great group. We’ve had a few games this year when we’ve played like this and we’ve done well. There were quite a few when we didn’t. That’s the sign of a young team. They were a little older and more experienced.
“I feel so good about making the tournament. We stepped up our schedule. We wanted harder games to get ready for this spot tonight. It helped.”
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete loses just three players, but one of them is Grant. Regardless, look for this squad to be an even bigger factor next winter.
“Joe’s awesome and unfortunately, we graduate him, but we have almost everyone else back and we’re gaining a lot,” Robinson said. “We hope to take it to the next level next year.”
Scarborough has won five of the past six playoff meetings against Cheverus, including a 4-1 triumph in last year’s semifinals. The teams split this year, with the Red Storm winning in Lewiston, 3-0, and the Stags prevailing in Portland, 3-2.
Saturday’s battle should be memorable, but Cheverus is bound and determined to get to the regional final.
“I love playing Scarborough again,” McSorley said. “There’s not another team I’d rather play there. If we come ready and play our way, I think we can beat anyone. We look forward to it.”
“Today was a good lesson because anything can happen in the playoffs and now we have to get ready for the next one,” said Lucas. “(Scarborough coach) Norm (Gagne) will be waiting for us. He’s been to our last three or four games. We’ll have to go at them. They try to slow us up, but we’ll see what happens.”
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete freshman Gus Lappin skates past Cheverus sophomore Alex Brewer.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete senior goalie Joe Grant makes one of his 37 saves.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete freshman Devan Hannan eludes Cheverus junior goalie Jason Halverson and scores the tying goal in the first period.
Cheverus senior Ryan McSorley scores the go-ahead goal in the second period.
South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete sophomore Mitchell Adams handles the puck.