Cheverus senior Luke Church, front, leads a celebration with his teammates after scoring his second goal in the Stags’ 5-1 win over Thornton Academy in Saturday’s Class A South semifinal. Cheverus will battle Biddeford in the regional final Tuesday.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald photos.
More photos below.
LEWISTON—Cheverus’ boys’ hockey team is tired of knocking at the championship door.
These Stags are ready to kick it in.
Top-ranked Cheverus had its hands full against No. 5 Thornton Academy in a Class A South semifinal Saturday afternoon at the Colisee, but thanks to some exceptional goaltending and timely scoring, the Stags are now two wins from their ultimate goal.
The Golden Trojans controlled play in the first period, but thanks to eight saves from senior goalie Jason Halvorsen, Cheverus kept the game scoreless.
Then, in the second period, the Stags got their offense going, as 2 minute, 3 seconds in, sophomore Jackson Wilson scored to put Cheverus on top for good.
Senior Luke Church added to the lead at 12:18, finishing on the power play, and with Halvorsen in the zone, Thornton Academy was on the ropes.
A second Church power play goal, at 4:17 of the third period, put Cheverus on the brink and while the Golden Trojans finally solved Halvorsen, as senior Chandler Bilodeau scored a short-handed goal with 6:21 to play, the Stags weren’t about to buckle.
With 2:30 to play, junior Justin Ray scored on a rebound and Wilson added an empty net goal with 13 seconds left as Cheverus went on to a 5-1 victory.
Halvorsen made 27 saves, Church and Wilson both scored twice and the Stags improved to 14-4-1, ended Thornton Academy’s season at 12-8 and advanced to meet No. 3 Biddeford (14-6) in the Class A South Final Tuesday in Lewiston, at a time to be determined.
“We were off for a little over a week and we had to get our legs under us as quickly as we could,” said Cheverus coach Dan Lucas. “We stuck with what got us here and we got some breaks.”
Cheverus lost twice to Falmouth, once to Lewiston, once to Thornton Academy and tied Portland/Deering, but the Stags won their other 13 games to earn the top seed in Class A South for the first time since 2006, its most recent championship season.
Thornton Academy, which won just four games and missed the playoffs last winter, went 11-7 and was competitive with everyone. The Golden Trojans dropped three games in overtime and wound up fifth in the region. Wednesday, Thornton Academy won, 6-3, at No. 4 Portland/Deering in the quarterfinal round.
The Golden Trojans split with the Stags in the regular season, winning, 4-2, Dec. 19 in Portland and losing at home in overtime, 2-1, Jan. 18.
Cheverus won both previous playoff meetings, with a 4-3, double-overtime victory in the 2013 Western A quarterfinals the most recent.
Saturday, the Stags were vulnerable in the first period, but they survived and went on to take control of the game.
Thornton Academy came out sizzling, but Halvorsen kept the lower seed from taking control, denying junior Luke Chessie early and after the Golden Trojans went on the power play, Halvorsen saved a pair of shots from Bilodeau another from senior Reagan Wintle.
After Halvorsen saved a late shot from Thornton Academy senior Owen Dubois, Cheverus went to the first intermission in a scoreless tie.
The Golden Trojans had an 8-1 edge in shots, but couldn’t capitalize.
“I wouldn’t say it was deflating,” said Thornton Academy coach Michael Roux. “We came out knowing we could play with them. We had good chances. They just played excellent.”
The Stags quickly went on top in the second period, as 2:03 in, junior Alex Brewer set up Wilson for a wrister that eluded Golden Trojans junior goalie Seth Dube and gave Cheverus a 1-0 lead.
Thornton Academy tried to answer, only to be stymied again, as Halvorsen saved bids from Dubois, junior Thomas Levasseur, Dubois on the rebound and Chessie again.
With 4:09 left in the second period, the Stags went on the power play and they would double their lead.
After Church was denied by Dube, Cheverus kept on the attack and with 2:42 to go, junior Colby Anton fired a pass across the crease to Church, who ripped a shot past Dube into the net to make it 2-0.
“In the locker room (between periods), the message was that they were outworking us and we knew we were better and we had to get pucks deep,” Church said. “Anton gave me a great pass. I was calling for it, he hit me perfect and I just gripped it and ripped it and good things happened.”
Thornton Academy was still in the game as the third period began, but Halvorsen continued his dominance, robbing Wintle twice before stopping shots from Dubois and Bilodeau.
With 11:31 remaining, the Stags went on another power play which resulted in another Church tally.
After senior Mike Hatch had a shot saved by Dube, Ray sent a shot on goal which Dube saved, but the rebound sat free for Church, who buried it with 10:43 to go, extending the lead to a comfortable 3-0.
“It was a good shot by Justin,” Church said. “I just went to the net and got the rebound.”
“We moved things around and got openings and took advantage of them to finish,” Lucas said.
Cheverus went on the power play again with 6:52 remaining, but this time, the goal would be scored by the Golden Trojans.
With 6:21 left, Bilodeau broke in short-handed, pulled Halvorsen out of his cage, then deked him and finished to cut the deficit to 3-1 and give Thornton Academy a faint pulse.
“I wanted to win,” Halvorsen said. “I cared about that more than the shutout. I took a chance and he beat me.”
The Golden Trojans tried to draw closer, but Wintle was twice denied by Halvorsen.
Then, with 2:30 remaining, after Anton’s shot was saved by Dube, Ray tucked home the rebound to end all doubt.
Thornton Academy pulled Dube late, but all that did was allow the Stags to score one final time, as Brewer set up Wilson for an empty net goal which brought the curtain down on Cheverus’ 5-1 victory.
“They have one great line and we knew if we could keep them contained and not give them too much ice between the blue lines, we could wear them down,” said Lucas. “We keep focusing on the task at hand. We want to play 45 minutes.”
Halvorsen’s 27 saves were the biggest difference-maker.
“It was just one of those games I had to come to play,” Halvorsen said. “I had my teammates in front of me. Thornton is very good, They have great skaters, very fast.”
“‘Halvo’ is one of the best goalies in the state,” Church said. “He keeps us in every game. Without him, it would have been a very different game.”
“Jason has a mind for these games,” Lucas added. “He lives for the big moment. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s probably the most lackadaisical guy on the team, but when the game starts, he gets it.”
Thornton Academy had a 28-22 shots advantage and got 17 saves from Dube, but still fell short, bringing an end to a season of growth.
“We have great senior leadership in here and they changed the program,” Roux said. “We went from four wins to 12. That’s all the seniors. I have no complaints. We have a lot of good young players, starting with our goaltender. I think our future is bright.”
Cheverus beat Biddeford twice this winter, but it wasn’t easy. The Stags enjoyed a 4-2 home victory Dec. 21, then eked out a 4-3 overtime decision at the Tigers Feb. 10.
Cheverus is 3-0 all-time against Biddeford in the playoffs, with a 6-5 overtime victory in the 2016 quarterfinals the most recent.
“We all remember last year, being up 2-0 and losing to Falmouth,” Church said. “Biddeford will be tough. We’ll have to bring our best.”
“We’ll have to work harder than we did today,” Halvorsen said. “It’s all about effort now. We play a great team in Biddeford and we’ll have to bring it. Hopefully we can do it.”
“Those other games don’t mean anything anymore,” Lucas added. “They want it as badly as we do. Good disclipined hockey will win it and when we get chances, we have to finish.”
Cheverus junior Alex Brewer races up the ice.
Cheverus senior Marco Giancotti tries to keep up with Thornton Academy senior Chandler Bilodeau.
Cheverus senior David Woodford defends Thornton Academy junior Joshua Lessard.
2013 Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 4 Thornton Academy 3 (2 OT)
2003 Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 10 Thornton Academy 0