PORTLAND—If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Cheverus’ boys’ hockey team stuck to that ancient motto Saturday evening in a game that began with overwhelming frustration, but ended in sweet victory.
Facing Cape Elizabeth in a key early season tilt, the Stags put 22 shots on goal in the first period, a period which saw them enjoy a man advantage for seven minutes, but when the final horn sounded, Cheverus trailed, 1-0, as Capers junior goalie Ross LeBlond made 18 saves and senior standout Curtis Guimond turned his squad’s one good scoring chance into a goal.
LeBlond continued to stand tall for the first five minutes of the second period as well, but finally, with 9:57 to play in the stanza, Stags senior James Kane beat him from the point and the spell was broken.
The floodgates didn’t exactly open, but the Stags pulled ahead six minutes later when senior James Hannigan scored unassisted and Cheverus took a 2-1 advantage to the third period.
There, the Stags finally broke it open, as senior Matt O’Leary (from classmate Quinton Farr on the power play) and Farr scored in a 32-second span.
The Capers made things interesting when senior Tom Gleason scored his first varsity goal with 1:47 to play, but with 39.2 seconds remaining, Hannigan iced it with an empty netter and Cheverus was able to celebrate a 5-2 victory.
The Stags improved to 3-0 on the young season and handed the Capers their first loss in three outings.
“We told the guys after the first period to not let the frustration get to them,” Cheverus coach Dan Lucas said. “I told them, ‘We’re going to win this game. We’ve had the majority of play in their end. Just be strong in the second period.’ There’s always room for improvement, but we’re happy and we’ll take it.”
Both squads were knocked out in their respective regional quarterfinals a year ago and both expect to go much deeper this winter.
Cheverus opened with a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over Lewiston, then handled South Portland, 8-1.
Cape Elizabeth beat Gardiner (4-2) and York (3-1) to start its season.
The Stags won last year’s meeting, 3-2.
Saturday, the Capers were seeking their first victory over Cheverus since Jan. 5, 2012 (5-3) and for awhile, it looked like LeBlond was going to deliver it almost singlehandedly, but ultimately, the Stags’ offense came to life.
The tone was set 2 minutes, 25 seconds in when Cape Elizabeth sophomore Peyton Weatherbie was given a five-minute penalty/10-minute major for hitting from behind, meaning LeBlond was about to become target practice.
He was up for the challenge.
Cheverus had several optimal opportunities, but LeBlond turned away shots from Hannigan, Kane, Hannigan again and senior Alex Libby to keep the game scoreless.
Then, with 4:40 showing, with the teams now at even strength, but with Weatherbie still serving his major, Guimond won the puck along the right boards, slipped a defender and skated in on Stags senior goalie Kyle Severance. Guimond then fired a perfect shot past the goalie and high into the net for an improbable 1-0 lead.
A minute later, Cheverus went on the power play again, but again, every shot found LeBlond’s pad or glove and at the first intermission, despite a 22-4 shots advantage, the Stags were down a goal.
“Personally, the first period was very frustrating,” Hannigan said. “I had quite a few scoring chances. I was mad in the locker room and translated that to the whole team.”
LeBlond continued to frustrate the Stags in the second period and when he denied freshman Cam Dube point blank with 10:31 left in the stanza, it looked as if he might hold them off all night.
“What more can you say about Ross?” said Cape Elizabeth coach Matthew Buotte. “He’s paid his dues and worked incredibly hard to get to where he’s at today. He was massive tonight. He kept us in it for a long time.”
“He came up big,” said Lucas. “We had opportunities, but we couldn’t bury them.”
Just when it appeared Cheverus would never find the net, the breakthrough goal came in seemingly innocent fashion.
Off a faceoff in the Capers’ zone, junior Jesse Cyr-Brophy passed the puck back to Kane at the point and his long shot eluded LeBlond to tie the score, 1-1, with 9:57 to go in the second.
After the Stags took a penalty, Cape Elizabeth had a chance to go back on top, but Severance saved bids from senior Jack Drinan and Guimond.
Then, with 3:39 left in the second, again off a faceoff win, the puck came to Hannigan and he quickly deposited it past LeBlond into the net to put Cheverus on top to stay.
“We went into the second period (angry) and came out, found some fire in our bellies and put a couple in the net,” Hannigan said. “We all believe in each other. I know every single kid on this team can do it. It’s a great mentality.”
A nice save from Severance on a bid from Capers junior Matt Riggle allowed the Stags to take a 2-1 lead to the second intermission.
Just 12 seconds into the third period, Riggle almost tied the score, but a sprawling Severance kept the puck out.
Then, midway through the third, the Stags got some breathing room.
With 8:29 to go, on the power play, O’Leary took a pass from Farr and beat LeBlond with a blast for a 3-1 lead.
“It was pretty frustrating off the bat not being able to score, but we figured out what we were doing wrong,” said O’Leary. “We were just shooting at his bread-basket. We needed to shoot around the goalie.”
Just 32 seconds later, Farr, after doing his share of giving this holiday season, got to receive, as he finished a pass from freshman Mike Hatch to push the lead to 4-1.
After Severance saved a bid from Guimond, Cape Elizabeth finally got its second goal, as Gleason (from Weatherbie) scored with 1:47 to play, but with 39.2 seconds left, Hannigan scored into the empty net to clinch it.
“I probably shouldn’t have celebrated so hard, but it iced the game away,” Hannigan said. “I was more happy for (linemates) Cam and Alex. They did the hard work. I did the easy stuff.”
Cheverus went on to celebrate its 5-2 victory.
“I feel like we have a lot of character and chemistry on this team,” O’Leary said. “This year, nobody gets down. Defensively, we did what I wanted us to do tonight. We shut them down off the bat, which is what we should do every game.”
“Every game is a big game,” said Lucas. “Cape’s had a good start. We’re starting to jell a little better. Our new players are fitting in. Being down by one and coming back was a good situation. We kept the gas pedal down.”
The Stags finished with a whopping 61-20 shots advantage and got 13 saves from an underappreciated Severance, who played a key role in the win.
Cape Elizabeth’s story was LeBlond, who wound up stopping 47 shots, but he couldn’t do it all.
“We are still a relatively young team,” Buotte said. “We want to make sure we play a full 45 (minutes). Our effort is there, but our decision-making could use some work. It’s little tweaks, but we need to manage the puck better at times.”
Cape Elizabeth looks to get back in the win column Thursday, when it hosts Maranacook. Saturday, the Capers go to Gorham. Home tilts against two-time defending Class A champion Falmouth and Western B contender Kennebunk round out the 2014 portion of the schedule.
“Our work ethic and attitude have been phenomenal so far and I think that will carry us a long way,” Buotte said.
As for Cheverus, it hosts Thornton Academy Tuesday, then makes a long trip to face Skowhegan Wednesday. A game at Yarmouth Dec. 23 rings out the old year.
“We have a busy week with a long road trip and we won’t take anyone lightly,” Lucas said. “All the games this year will be tight.”
The new year could be quite promising for this group.
“We have a lot of drive to win this year,” O’Leary said. “It’ s the last chance (for the seniors). We need to improve on our opening up of games. We have to come out and finish.”
“We’re rolling along,” Hannigan said. “We’re 3-0. We’re looking forward. We’re just pumped. This is the best team chemistry we’ve had in four years. It’s just awesome.”