PORTLAND—It might have been an afternoon makeup contest in front of a sparse crowd, but there was plenty of intensity between longtime city boys’ hockey rivals Cheverus and Portland/Deering Monday at Portland Ice Arena.
After winning an earlier meeting this winter, 8-0, the Stags raced to an early 2-0 lead behind goals from sophomore Luke Trickey and junior Alex Libby, but this time, Portland/Deering had every intention of making a game of it.
Second period goals from seniors Mike Fuller and Zach Luce tied the score and when senior Stephen Barry scored 49 seconds into the third period, Portland/Deering had an improbable lead.
But it didn’t last.
With 12:29 left in regulation, a rebound tally from junior Jean-Claude Lemieux made it 3-3 and after neither squad could light the lamp, the game went to overtime.
There, Portland/Deering almost won it on several occasions, but Cheverus senior goalie Jason Blier came up big time and again and then, just over four minutes into the extra session, Stags junior Conor Ryle managed to get the puck past Portland/Deering sophomore goalie Alex Girsch to end it and Cheverus had itself a hard-fought and dramatic 4-3 triumph.
The Stags snapped a two-game skid, improved to 7-4-1 and dropped hard-luck Portland/Deering to 3-9-1 in the process.
“It was a gift,” said Cheverus coach Dan Lucas. “(Portland/Deering) had a game Saturday against Scarborough and we were sitting for four days eating too much Super Bowl chip and dip. We were really fortunate to win that hockey game.”
Both teams would be in the postseason if it began today, but each squad still has plenty of work to do.
Portland/Deering got off to a promising start by rallying to tie talented visiting Thornton Academy, 3-3, and after a 5-1 home loss to Gorham, won at York (8-7) and Kennebunk (4-2). Once the calendar flipped to 2014, however, Portland/Deering has struggled, losing at home to Cheverus (8-0), at Thornton Academy (9-0), at defending Class A champion Falmouth (7-1) and after beating host Brunswick (5-3), falling at Cape Elizabeth (3-2), at Biddeford (8-0), at home to Yarmouth (4-2) and at home to Scarborough (11-0).
Cheverus, a semifinalist a year ago, started slowly in 2013-14, blanking visiting Marshwood/Traip (6-0), then losing at St. Dom’s (2-0) and Brunswick (2-1). The Stags then rattled off four in a row, beating visiting Cape Elizabeth (3-2) and host York (8-0), Portland (8-0) and Falmouth (1-0), before settling for a 2-2 tie against visiting Brunswick. A 7-3 home win over Yarmouth followed, but Cheverus lost at home to Bangor, 5-3, then dropped a tough 4-3 overtime decision at Thornton Academy Wednesday of last week.
Entering Monday, the Stags had won four of the past six meetings against Portland/Deering and that trend continued, although it took longer than the allotted 45 minutes to finish.
Portland/Deering had the first good scoring chance, but Luce’s shot was denied by Blier.
Then, 3:19 in, Cheverus broke the ice as Trickey scored on a rebound, sending the puck past Girsch. Junior Nick Noyes was credited with the assist.
After Blier twice turned aside bids from Portland/Deering freshman Dominic Tocci, the Stags doubled their lead, courtesy a tremendous individual effort from Libby.
With 2:37 left in the first, junior Matt O’Leary sent a long pass up the ice, where Libby, extending like a centerfielder, caught the puck with his left hand, dropped it to the ice, then skated in on Girsch, whom he beat to the glove side for a 2-0 advantage. Senior Alexander Grant-Roy was also credited with an assist.
Portland/Deering actually had a 9-8 edge in shots in the first 15 minutes, but Cheverus had a 2-0 lead and had outscored its rival, 10-0, for the season, suggesting another lopsided victory was in the offing.
The second period would belong to Portland/Deering.
After Blier denied Fuller, who had taken a two-thirds-of-the-length-of-the-ice pass from Barry before being robbed, Barry skated through the defense, around the cage, then centered the puck to Fuller, who finished to cut the deficit in half with 9:52 to play in the second period.
Portland/Deering almost pulled even with 8:59 to go in the second, but Blier turned aside a bid from senior Ben Barnes.
Portland/Deering then went on the power play and was rewarded with 7:41 to go in the frame, as Luce finished, with Fuller and Barry getting assists.
Late in the second, Cheverus went on the power play and 31 seconds later, earned a 5-on-3 advantage, but Portland/Deering’s defense stood tall, as Grant-Roy was twice robbed by Girsch.
“We’ve worked on PKs and that 5-on-3 game us some momentum and some belief in ourselves,” said Portland/Deering coach Chad Hart.
As time expired in the second, the Stags where whistled for a penalty, allowing Portland/Deering to start the third on the power play and it quickly took advantage.
With 14:11 left in regulation, Barry got the puck on the right side near the glass, took his time, then roofed a shot past Blier to give Portland/Deering its first lead, 3-2.
“Steve’s been back (from injury) for three games and he makes a huge difference,” said Hart. “He’s so calm and collected back there. He’s tough to beat. He’s a great playmaker. He’s our anchor.”
The lead wouldn’t last.
With 12:29 to play, Lemieux got to a rebound of a shot from O’Leary and beat Girsch to even the score at 3-3.
It would stay that way for a long time, although both teams had chances to win it.
With 9:20 to go, after a steal from Fuller, Portland/Deering senior Antonio DiPietro almost put his team on top, but Blier made the save.
Two minutes later, Barry shot just wide.
With 6:05 showing, sophomore Jesse Cyr-Brophy had a great look for Cheverus, but Girsch made the stop.
Ryle almost delivered the go-ahead tally with 3:51 remaining, but Girsch made the save and the rebound was cleared from harm’s way.
A minute later, a rush from Stags junior James Hannigan was denied by Girsch.
Portland/Deering then had looks from Luce and Barry, but Blier stood tall.
With 1:11 to go in regulation, Cheverus went on the power play again, but again, the Portland/Deering special teams unit was superior, holding the Stags at bay and the game would go to overtime.
In Maine high school hockey, teams play an eight-minute, “sudden victory” OT with the game declared a tie if no one tickles the twine.
That wouldn’t be the case Monday.
For most of the overtime, Portland/Deering appeared primed to earn the victory, but Blier simply wouldn’t budge.
After Portland/Deering killed the remaining 49 seconds of the lingering penalty, Fuller almost ended the game, but his blast hit the top of the crossbar.
Barry was then robbed point blank after a turnover. After Tocci set up Fuller for a shot which Blier saved, Fuller’s shot deflected high and Luce set up senior Chris Eye for a point blank shot that Blier stopped with his pad.
After Blier saved another Eye bid, the Stags transitioned to offense and finally ended it.
It would be Ryle doing the honors, beating a defender wide, then skating in on Girsch before somehow directing the puck past the goalie and into the net to end it with 3:53 left in the extra session.
“I came down the left wing,” said Ryle. “I had the defender beat wide. I chipped it in backhand and got a lucky bounce and it went in. I was looking for a rebound and saw it in the back of the net. It’s my first game winner. I’ll keep that puck.”
Cheverus 4 Portland/Deering 3.
“It was a close one,” Ryle said. “We came into thinking it would be an easy win, but they took it to us and really wanted to beat us. They really turned on the jets and were all over us. We’re their biggest rival. All they care about is beating us. After the OT loss to TA, it’s good to get an OT win.”
“We’ll take them any way they come. Fortunately,” Lucas said. “Portland’s had some key guys out. They’re an underrated team. They played well. They can surprise people. They have some shooters. Barry’s a difference maker with the puck back there. After the first period, we said we had to put the gas pedal down. Boom, then they clicked on the power play.”
Portland/Deering finished with a 29-22 shots advantage, but Blier made 26 saves.
“After the third goal, I made up my mind I wouldn’t let another one in and I didn’t,” Blier said. “It worked out. If you’re going to play goalie, you have to love that situation and I do love that situation. When you lose, it’s tough, but when you win, it’s the best feeling ever. I just got in the zone and my body took me away pretty much.”
“Every game, we’re accustomed to (Jason) playing so well this year,” Ryle said. “He’s unbelievable. Some of their best shooters came down and should have scored, but somehow, he stood on his head and made the save.”
“I just went in and kicked (Blier’s) pads in the locker room,” Lucas added. “He made some big saves. Jason makes a difference. He’s a senior. He’s given it everything he’s got this year. He can be the difference down the road.”
Girsch stopped 18 shots and Portland/Deering scored on both of its power play opportunities while denying all three by the Stags, but it wasn’t enough.
“I told the guys all year if they played three periods, they could play with anyone,” said Hart. “I’m proud of them. We came back from 2-0. We played with our hearts and worked our butts off. Today, the difference was just a couple bounces in OT. We had our chances. It’s a tough outcome, but I’m proud of how we played. It’s tough to swallow, but it’s a lot better than losing 8-0 or 10-0. We’re starting to play our best. I’m hoping to continue this the rest of the season.”
Portland/Deering (seventh in the Western Class A Heal Points standings, where nine teams make the playoffs) has a favorable remaining schedule and should be able to reach the postseason if it plays well. Portland/Deering hosts Marshwood Thursday and Noble Saturday, then goes to South Portland and Noble before closing at home versus Biddeford.
If Portland/Deering can build on Monday’s performance, it might just make some noise.
“We’ll take this momentum into the rest of the season,” Hart said. “The guys just have to believe like they did tonight and play a whole game. If we play like we did tonight, I think we’ll be successful. Even with a small number of wins, we’ll be in a good position to be in the playoff picture. If we play our best, in my eyes, we can play with anyone. Rankings don’t matter to anyone in the playoffs.”
As for Cheverus (now fourth in Western A behind Falmouth, Scarborough and Biddeford), it faces a huge home test Thursday when top-ranked Scarborough pays a visit. After going to Biddeford Saturday, Marshwood Monday and Scarborough Tuesday, the Stags host Biddeford and Thornton Academy to wrap up the regular season.
“Hopefully this regenerates our team,” Blier said. “We have to play the best we can. We need to finish strong.”
“We have to take it to every team and not underestimate anyone,” Ryle said. “We have a hard schedule. We have to show we can beat anyone.”
“We’ll try to get ready (for the playoffs),” added Lucas. “Once you’re in a one game elimination, everyone feels like they have a chance. Now, it’s about execution and consistency.”
Portland freshman Brent Rickett controls the puck.
Portland freshman Peter Barry gets a step on Cheverus sophomore Luke Trickey.
Cheverus junior Matt O’Leary plays the puck up the ice.
Cheverus freshman Ryan McSorley fires a shot.
Portland senior Mike Fuller tries to knock the puck away from Cheverus senior Alexander Grant-Roy.
Portland senior Chris Eye and Cheverus junior James Hannigan do battle along the boards.
Portland senior Stephen Barry fires a shot as Cheverus junior Quintin Farr defends. Barry scored a goal and assisted on two others.
Cheverus sophomore Chris Vallee finds some operating room.
Cheverus junior Alex Libby is congratulated by his teammates after his stellar individual effort gave the Stags an early 2-0 lead over Portland/Deering Monday afternoon. Cheverus went on to a 4-3 win in overtime.
Mike Strout photos
More photos below.