Cheverus girls' hockey overcomes slow start to win quarterfinal
PORTLAND—The undefeated, top-ranked, powerhouse Cheverus girls' hockey team faced a rare dose of adversity in its West Region quarterfinal round playoff game Saturday afternoon at Portland Ice Arena, but turned it up a notch and scored seven times over the final two periods to advance with a 7-1 victory over the fourth-ranked York Wildcats.
Down 1-0 after one, their first deficit of the entire season, the Stags got a pair of power play goals from senior Alyssa Audet to go ahead to stay and the floodgates opened from there as Cheverus improved to 19-0 on the season and punched its ticket for Wednesday's regional final against No. 3 Falmouth (10-5-4).
"We were scared, but we made an effort to do our best and come back," said Audet. "We pumped each other up and it seemed to work."
Eye on the prize
Cheverus has come to close to winning it all the past couple seasons, but hasn't had an answer for Biddeford in the clutch. This time around, the Stags drew York (which beat the Tigers in the quarterfinals) in their first game.
Cheverus has won so prolifically this season (outscoring the opposition by a composite 112-10 margin) that it's the heavy favorite entering the tournament, but Saturday, the Stags expected to get a battle from a Wildcats squad that played them tough in the regular season (Cheverus won 4-2 at home Dec. 23 and 3-0 at York on Jan. 16).
The Stags had plenty of chances to score in the first period, but couldn't convert and when York took a 1-0 lead on sophomore Nicole Heroux's tally 9 minutes, 30 seconds in, Cheverus was behind for the first time.
The second period brought more intensity and it wasn't long before the Stags were ahead to stay.
With 10:52 to go in the period, just a minute after senior Grace Fitzpatrick hit the post on a shot, Audet tied the score on the power play, banging home the rebound of freshman Katie Roy's shot. With 8:23 left in the second, Audet put Cheverus on top with another power play tally, as her blast hit the underside of the crossbar, but fell inside the line. With 2:53 left in the period, after a nice save from senior goalie Saundrine Lanouette at one end, senior Sage Witham fed junior Emily Sawchuck for a goal at the other to make it 3-1 after two.
Cheverus extended its lead to 4-1 with 11:13 remaining in regulation when Sawchuck scored on a turnaround (Witham and junior Anna McDonough were credited with assists). The Stags then put it away late on a goal from senior Brianna Amato (who took a pretty pass from Fitzpatrick) and a pair from Roy (the first came on a rebound of Amato's shot, the second from Audet) to win 7-1.
"We knew York would come out playing hard and they did," said Cheverus coach J.P. Lavoie. "They played well. We maybe came out a little flat, but we picked it up and the girls played great once we got our legs a little bit. Their goalie played very well in the first period and they got one by us, but it worked out fine."
"We were just nervous that it's playoffs," added Audet. "After we saw that we could play with them, our nerves went away and we gained our intensity. There's definitely pressure. Anything can happen. We know that 18-0 is nothing when you come into the playoffs."
Cheverus had a 28-9 advantage in shots and got great offensive balance, as well as eight saves from Lanouette.
"Saundrine played solid as she always does," Lavoie said. "We count on her to stop pretty much any puck that comes by. Our plan is always to pass the puck around and get it to an open shooter and get in the net that way. We're trying not to feel the pressure, but everyone's out to get us. We have to play through that. We just have to play our game and things will take care of themselves."
Wednesday evening, at Portland Ice Arena (following the completion of the East Region Final, which starts at 5), the Stags will look to win the West when they meet up with the Yachtsmen (who rallied to beat Scarborough 3-2 in the other semifinal). Cheverus and Falmouth did not meet this year.
"I think it's going to be a tough game," Audet said. "We'll have to come out and work as hard as we can every minute. I hope it's our year. That's what we've been striving for for four years."
"We don't expect an easy game," Lavoie added. "We'll be ready for them. My older kids who have been here all along definitely think it's their best shot."
If victorious, Cheverus will meet the East Region winner (Lewiston or St. Dom's) in the state final Saturday at 7 p.m., at the Colisee in Lewiston.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com