Cheverus’ girls’ hockey team celebrates a goal during the Stags’ 5-3 win over Biddeford in Wednesday’s South region quarterfinals.
Chris Lambert photos.
More photos below.
PORTLAND—Playoff success is often predicated on overcoming adversity.
Cheverus’ girls’ hockey team, which includes players from Kennebunk and Old Orchard Beach, has faced its share of adversity this winter, but the Stags’ perseverance has been unquestionable and as a result, they will live to play another day.
Wednesday afternoon, in a South region quarterfinal at Troubh Ice Arena, Cheverus, which dropped five of seven games heading into the postseason and was relying on its backup goalie, got everything it could handle and more over 45 minutes from Biddeford, but the Stags time and again, dug deep and found the answers.
Cheverus, ranked third, appeared en route to an easy win when seniors Sophia Giancotti and Lilly Wolff scored early, but as time wound down in the first period, the sixth-ranked Tigers cut the deficit in half.
In the second period, Biddeford forged a 2-2 tie, but the Stags retook the lead on a rebound tally from Giancotti with 7.3 seconds to go.
Early in the third period, the Tigers pulled even again, but Cheverus saved its best for last, going on top to stay with 8:01 remaining, when Wolff scored, and putting it away on a goal from senior inspirational leader Jill Hannigan.
If the offense wasn’t enough, sophomore goalie Anna Smith came up huge in a tough spot and the Stags went on to a 5-3 victory.
Cheverus got two goals apiece from Giancotti and Wolff, got 10 saves from Smith and improved to 12-7 on the season, ended Biddeford’s year at 6-13 and advanced to meet No. 2 Falmouth (14-2-2) in the South region semifinals Friday at 6 p.m., at Family Ice Center in Falmouth.
“The program wanted to get back to the playoffs and we did,” Cheverus first-year coach Kent Hulst said. “The kids came in and bought into everything. We had some bumps in the road which helped us understand winning and losing, so winning a playoff game was big.”
Cheverus missed the playoffs in 2014 and again last year with a 5-13 mark, but responded well to Hulst, the one-time Portland Pirates standout, this winter. The Stags won nine of their first 11 games, then, went 2-5 down the stretch, hindered in part by the loss of Hannigan to a shoulder malady.
Biddeford posted a 6-12 mark this regular season and earned the final playoff spot in the region.
Cheverus split with the Tigers during the regular season, winning at home 5-0 and losing in Biddeford, 1-0.
The teams split two previous playoff encounters, as the Tigers won the 2009 regional final, 1-0, and the Stags won in the 2013 quarterfinals, 7-4.
Wednesday, Cheverus was bolstered by the return of Hannigan.
“I’m sore, but it felt good to be back,” Hannigan said. “I missed five games. I was nervous at the beginning, but I knew my team could do it.”
“(Jill’s) been here four years and is very well respected,” Hulst said. “She’s our leader. Everyone was disappointed she got hurt. Everyone was excited she came back.”
The Stags grabbed a 1-0 lead 4 minutes, 45 seconds in, when Giancotti scored on a rebound of a shot by senior Caroline Ray.
With 8:55 left in the first period, Wolff, a Kennebunk student who has been a great addition to the Cheverus roster, finished a feed from her sister, freshman Caitlin Wolff, for a 2-0 advantage.
Smith first made her presence felt with 3:08 left in the period, when she robbed Biddeford sophomore Katie Monson on a breakaway.
The Stags then took a penalty and didn’t allow a shot on goal on the ensuing power play, but with just 6.1 seconds to go, the Tigers cut the deficit in half when senior Suzette Lamoureux’s dribbler deflected past Smith and into the net to make it 2-1.
Cheverus had a 15-3 shots advantage in the first period, but didn’t put the game away and that came back to haunt the Stags in the second period, when Biddeford senior Taylor Turgeon scored on a rebound to make it 2-2.
Hannigan almost gave Cheverus the lead with just under a minute to go in the second, but her tipped shot rolled just wide of Tigers junior goalie Rebekah Guay and the far post.
The Stags did finally break through and retake the lead with just 7.3 seconds showing when Hannigan’s shot was saved, but Giancotti banged home the rebound to make it 3-2.
“We knew we had to do something,” Hulst said. “We wanted to get something before the break.”
To its credit, Biddeford refused to go away in the third period either.
With 12:29 remaining in regulation, a shot from Tigers junior Angie Fitzgerald got past Smith and the game was tied again, 3-3.
With the game and the season on the line, Cheverus found a way to survive and advance.
With 8:01 left, freshman defender Abby Enck sent a pass ahead to Lilly Wolff, who skated in before firing a shot past Guay to put the Stags ahead for good.
“I’ve played with Biddeford before, so I know the goalie,” Wolff said. “I was aiming above the shoulder. Everyone’s been really accepting on this team. I’ve had a lot of fun.”
“Lilly’s meant a lot,” Hannigan said. “She’s a leader on and off the ice. We appreciate her.”
“Lilly’s come a long way,” Hulst added. “She’s come to practice early and has worked on the skill work we do. You can see how much she’s developed.”
Cheverus got a much-needed insurance goal with 3 minutes left, as Ray passed to Hannigan and Hannigan beat Guay for a two-goal lead.
“I took a lot of shots and was unlucky, so it felt pretty good to get one in the end,” Hannigan said.
With just over a minute to go, Smith made one final big play, cutting off the angle on a rush by Biddeford sophomore Paige Boudreau, who shot wide, and the Stags went on to a 5-3 victory.
“We’ve had tough times, losing our best player and our goalie, so it’s amazing to win a playoff game,” Wolff said. “It was difficult to go back and forth, goal to goal. They came back quickly, but we held them off. I’m confident in my team. We work hard and play well together.”
“This means a lot to win,” said Hannigan. “We knew this would be our best season yet. We’ve done well with our opportunities. We have defense, we have offense and our goalie is working as hard as she can.”
“It was a good game by both teams, back and forth,” Hulst added. “Give Biddeford credit. They kept coming. We kept battling back and we were fortunate to win. It’s a huge lift for the program.”
Cheverus finished with an emphatic 51-12 shots advantage and got 10 saves from Smith.
“(Anna) was a little nervous, but she made big saves,” Hulst said. “She’s worked hard.”
Guay made 46 saves for the Tigers.
Next up for Cheverus is potent Falmouth.
The Stags lost twice to the Yachtsmen this winter, 5-2, at home and 11-1 on the road.
The teams have played once prior in the playoffs, a 4-0 Cheverus win in the 2010 regional final.
The Stags have nothing to lose and they plan to play with abandon as they seek to keep their season going.
“We really need to play defense and block shots and support Anna,” said Hannigan. “When we get a chance, we need to look at the puck and aim well. They have a good goalie. They’re a good team. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
“We’ll keep our heads up and be optimistic about the game,” Wolff said. “We’ll give it our all.”
“We’ll battle hard and stay focused and stick to our game plan,” Hulst added. “Falmouth’s deep. They have good players. It should be a good game.”
Cheverus freshman Sophia Pompeo races up the ice as Biddeford’s Paige Boudreau gives chase.
Cheverus senior Jill Hannigan fires a shot. Hannigan returned from injury to help lead the Stags to victory.
Cheverus senior Lilly Wolff carries the puck as Biddeford’s Paige Laverriere gives chase. Wolff scored twice, including the winning goal.
Biddeford goalie Rebekah Guay keeps a wary eye on Cheverus freshman Terryn MacDonald.
Cheverus senior Sophia Giancotti fires a shot. Giancotti scored twice in the victory.