Falmouth overcomes Cheverus to win regional championship

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Falmouth’s boys’ hockey team rushes the ice to celebrate at the conclusion of its 3-2 win over Cheverus in Tuesday evening’s Class A South Final. The Yachtsmen will meet defending champion Lewiston in the state final Saturday night.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

LEWISTON—Tuesday evening, for the second year in a row, Falmouth’s high-powered offense was coming up empty in the regional final.

A year after being blanked by Scarborough at the Colisee with a trip to the state game on the line, the top-ranked Yachtsmen were on the ropes again against second-seeded Cheverus in the boys’ hockey Class A South Final, as nothing was going their way.

The Stags took an early lead on a goal from senior captain Kieran Conley and with 6:02 to play in the second period, Cheverus added a second goal, as junior Cam Dube finished. The goal was initially waved off, but was eventually allowed and it appeared that the underdogs had all the momentum.

And then Falmouth roared to life.

The tide turned with just 55.5 seconds remaining in the second, when Yachtsmen sophomore Garrett Tracey skated nearly the length of the ice before finishing to give his team life.

Falmouth, as is its custom, then completely dominated the third period to prevail.

Just 41 seconds in, junior Theo Hembre tied the score when his long shot took a fortuitous bounce into the net.

With the Yachtsmen preventing the Stags from mustering a single shot, they kept the pressure on and with 8:02 to play, senior Reece Armitage tickled the twine for a 3-2 lead.

After Falmouth had an insurance goal waved off, it had to fend off one final Cheverus push, but a key save from junior goalie Spencer Pierce did the trick and the Yachtsmen closed the door on their victory.

Falmouth improved to 16-3-1, won its first regional title in three seasons, ended the Stags’ year at 15-6 and advanced to battle defending champion Lewiston (19-1) in the Class A state final Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Colisee.

“We’ve been in this situation several times and we’ve been successful coming back,” said Yachtsmen coach Deron Barton. “We didn’t plan it this way, but we have quality players and great leadership and I think that was the difference. We focus on working hard and not worrying about the score. To play a lethargic two-and-a-half periods and to still come back against a quality team, how can I not be proud of the guys? I’m super-proud of them.”

The 1 and the 2

Falmouth and Cheverus squaring off in the regional final didn’t come as a surprise, but the teams got to the big stage in very different ways (see sidebar, below, for links to previous game stories).

The Yachtsmen, by virtue of the top seed, earned a bye into the semifinal round and Saturday, they downed No. 4 Portland/Deering, 5-2.

The Stags eliminated seventh-ranked South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete, 5-2, in the quarterfinals, then Saturday, in their semifinal, had to rally to force overtime before edging No. 3 Scarborough, the two-time reigning regional champion, by a 4-3 score on senior Sean Walsh’s tally.

Falmouth took both regular season meetings, 5-0 at home Feb. 14 and 4-3 in Portland Feb. 23.

Cheverus had won the two prior playoff meetings, although they came a long time ago: 6-5 in the 2005 Western A semifinals and 5-2 in the 2006 Western A semifinal round.

Tuesday, the Yachtsmen dug a hole and needed all of their skill and will to dig out and advance.

The Stags came out with great energy and were eventually rewarded with the game’s first goal.

The first good look came 67 seconds in, but junior Jesse Pierce was denied by Spencer Pierce.

After Pierce denied Pierce again, Falmouth’s goalie had to turn aside a bid from junior David Woodford right in front.

The Yachtsmen got their first chance at 4:08, as a Cheverus defender whiffed on the puck and Hembre broke in free, but Halvorsen stopped him cold.

After Pierce stopped Pierce and sophomore Justin Ray shot wide, Falmouth got looks from Reece Armitage, Hembre and junior Lou Mainella, but Halvorsen stopped all of them.

At 7:08, Mainella was sent off for interference and the Stags got the game’s first goal.

They actually did so twice.

Just six seconds after the penalty, junior Marco Giancotti ripped a shot from just inside the blue line, which senior Ryan McSorley tipped home, but after a review, it was determined McSorley committed a high stick infraction and the goal was waved off.

After Halvorsen denied Hembre’s short-handed bid, Cheverus got a goal that counted, as the Yachtsmen couldn’t clear the puck and Conley ripped a shot past Pierce into the net for a 1-0 lead at 8:51.

Falmouth then had chances to answer, only to see McSorley break up a rush by junior Brendan Hickey, then have Halvorsen deny shots by junior David Hawkes, Hickey and Armitage.

With 1:12 remaining in the first period, the Stags almost doubled their lead, but Pierce kept the puck on a 2-and-1 and had the goalie get a piece of it and it ricocheted off the post and out of harm’s way.

In the waning seconds, the Yachtsmen hoped to pull even, but Halvorsen denied senior Robbie Armitage to allow Cheverus to take a 1-0 lead to the first intermission.

In the first 15 minutes, Falmouth enjoyed a 14-6 shots advantage, but Halvorsen stopped every single one.

In the second period, the back-and-forth excitement continued.

Just 12 seconds in, junior Luke Church looked to extend his team’s lead, but was denied.

At 2:51 the Stags went on the power play for a second time, but this time, couldn’t convert, as Giancotti was denied by Pierce, Dube’s rebound was barely saved, then shots from Giancotti and junior Mike Hatch were also turned aside.

With 10 minutes left, after a turnover, sophomore Jack Kidder shot just wide and moments later, Halvorsen had to deny Reece Armitage.

With 6:34 left, Cheverus went on the power play again and scored again, leading to a zany sequence of events.

With 6:02 showing, Pierce set up Dube for a blast that clearly sailed into the net for a 2-0 lead, but again, the officials convened for a replay and for the second time, this time after a long delay, they waved the goal off, as Walsh was apparently in the crease.

Then, the officials came over the Cheverus bench and after a short discussion, the Stags’ cheering section erupted as the goal was allowed to stand.

“I think they looked to see if there was goalie interference,” said Cheverus coach Dan Lucas. “The ref behind the net called it a goal right away, then they decided to look at it. He called no goal, but he basically had a brain cramp. It was a goal. He apologized to me, that’s why he came over to the bench. I knew it was a goal. It gave us a lift.”

Despite the cruel turn of events, Falmouth awakened and eventually snapped a long regional final scoring drought and got back in the game.

After a Hembre rush was broken up, Dube almost made it 3-0, but his shot rang off the far post.

The Yachtsmen then got shots from Reece Armitage and Hembre with the rebound being cleared each time.

After Robbie Armitage tipped Tracey’s shot high, Reece Armitage ripped a shot that Halvorsen got a piece of before he dove on the rebound.

Finally, with 55.5 seconds to go in the second, Tracey skated the lengthy of the ice and wristed a shot that Halvorsen couldn’t stop and Falmouth was only down by a goal, 2-1.

“They gave me open ice and I skated through the neutral zone,” Tracey said. “I knew that ‘Halvo’ was weak to his blocker side. I knew if I shot it past their defensive screen, he’d have a hard time seeing it and that’s what I did.”

“Garrett stepped up,” Reece Armitage said. “We needed him to be the guy. He took advantage and got us going.”

“I can’t figure it out,” Barton added. “Maybe we were nervous, overly confident, who knows, but the last three minutes of that second period the tide started to turn. We were disciplined and positive on the bench and we got back to our original systems. (Garrett’s) a sophomore who has played forward this year. We had to move him back, but he was an unlikely hero. Without that goal, the fire doesn’t get started.”

With just 8.3 seconds remaining, the Yachtsmen almost tied it, but Halvorsen turned aside Reece Armitage’s shot and Hembre’s rebound and Cheverus clung to a 2-1 lead heading to the second intermission.

“Anytime you give up a goal right before the end of a period, it hurts,” Lucas said. “We had them frustrated and that goal gave them a spark. We had a line change and it opened up and bingo, the puck was in the net.”

In the second period, the Stags had a 10-9 edge in shots, but it remained anyone’s game going to the fateful third period.

Where Falmouth turned it on and won the regional title.

It took all of 41 seconds for the Yachtsmen to tie the score, as Robbie Armitage passed to Hembre, who launched a rocket from just inside the blue line that bounced and somehow eluded Halvorsen to tie it, 2-2.

“It was just a lucky bounce, it went in and it changed direction,” Hembre said. “I was just putting it on net and I was surprised it went in.”

“We went into the locker room solid,” Barton said. “We knew they were tired and we had the momentum swing and we had to capitalize. We may have gotten a lucky bounce, but it counts and we’ll take it.”

“I don’t know how that puck bounced the way it did, but it did and they were on their way,” Lucas lamented. “We felt we had momentum, but that was a big goal.”

Falmouth then kept the puck in the Cheverus zone and pressed and pressed for the go-ahead tally before it finally came.

First, Halvorsen helped keep the game even during a Yachtsmen power play by making six saves and exhaling when a blast from junior Alex Grade rang off the post.

After Robbie Armitage had a shot saved, the Yachtsmen kept the pressure on and at 6:58, were finally rewarded.

The winning goal came after a nice passing sequence, as junior Parker Wyatt got the puck to Hickey, who set up Reece Armitage on the left circle and Armitage blistered a shot past Halvorsen to make it 3-2.

“Hickey threaded the needle on that one,” Armitage said. “Props to him. He saw me cutting in and I just had to bury it.”

“Reece emerges as a go-to player when the chips are down,” Barton said.

With 5:41 remaining, Falmouth appeared to get some breathing room, as after a Robbie Armitage shot was saved, Hembre banged in the rebound, but after another review, it was determined that the goal was moved off its mooring before the shot went in and it remained a one-score game.

Tracey then had a chance to clinch it when he broke in with 1:41 left, but he shot high.

As time wound down, Cheverus tried desperately to get the puck into the Yachtsmen’s zone so it could pull Halvorsen, but it couldn’t do so.

After calling timeout with 30.7 seconds to play, the Stags had one final opportunity and it was a pretty good one, as, with Halvorsen out so Cheverus could play 6-on-5, Conley got his stick on a Giancotti shot and redirected it, but Pierce made the save.

Falmouth ran out the clock from there and at 10:09 p.m., celebrated a regional championship.

“I think we were better prepared than they were,” Tracey said, “We’re known to be a third period team and we proved that tonight. We felt we had all the momentum in the world and that we could do anything. We played our team defense. Defense created offense. We know when to turn it on.”

“We were resilient tonight and we showed how much heart we have,” Reece Armitage said. “We preach how we’re a third period team. All the conditioning in the preseason paid off.”

Falmouth outshot Cheverus, 13-1, in the third period and finished with a 36-17 advantage. Pierce saved 15 shots.

So close

The Stags got 33 saves from Halvorsen, but it wasn’t enough, as they’ll have to wait another season to get back to the state game.

“We ran out of gas there at the start of the third period,” Lucas said. “Our plan was working the way we wanted it to and the kids were working hard. We just didn’t have the push at the end. Hats off to Falmouth. They hung tough. It was a good hockey game.

“We had a good, solid year right up until the end. The guys know it stings. There should be a lot of fire there to bring back next year. We’re moving in the right direction. We were one period away and we have a good group coming back next year.”

The big game

Falmouth will seek its third championship in five seasons Saturday, but it won’t come easily against a Lewiston squad which rolled over Bangor, 6-0, in the Class A North Final Tuesday night.

The Yachtsmen split this year with the Blue Devils, winning, 3-2, Jan. 16 in Lewiston and losing, 5-4, at home five days later. Falmouth won the only previous playoff meeting, 4-0, in the 2013 state final.

Saturday evening will feature a full house and will likely produce a memorable game.

And the Yachtsmen hope to win it.

“It should be a great game,” Tracey said. “We always look forward to playing Lewiston.”

“I expect a big challenge, but we’re ready for it,” Hembre said. “We’re prepared. We have to play our game, use our speed and take them out of their game.”

“As of now, I’m not satisfied,” Armitage said. “I want another championship. We’ll work in practice. Ultimately, team defense and teamwork will get us a championship.”

“(Lewiston’s) a quality team,” Barton added. “They’ve proved it all year long. They’re deep. We have to come to play like the last two times. The guys get up for them. If we can maintain the tempo and keep it close, it’s going to be a hell of a hockey game. Let’s get 5,000 people in here, drop the puck and have some fun.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cheverus junior Mike Hatch dives in vain in an attempt to block the shot of Falmouth junior Theo Hembre.

Cheverus junior Marco Giancotti knocks the puck away from Falmouth senior Robbie Armitage as Stags junior goalie Jason Halvorsen looks on.

Falmouth senior Robbie Armitage and Cheverus junior Marco Giancotti battle for the puck.

Falmouth junior Parker Wyatt and Cheverus junior Luke Church fight for the puck in front of Yachtsmen junior goalie Spencer Pierce.

Cheverus senior Sean Walsh (in front) and junior Cam Dube celebrate Dube’s second period goal to make it 2-0 Stags.

Falmouth celebrates after receiving the regional championship plaque.

The new Class A South champions.

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Previous Cheverus-Falmouth playoff results

2006 Western A semifinal
Cheverus 5 Falmouth 2

2005 Western A semifinal
Cheverus 6 Falmouth 5

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.