PORTLAND—The Megan Fortier Show made another appearance and it proved to be a Saturday Night Special for the Falmouth girls’ hockey team.
The Yachtsmen, the top ranked team in the West Region, “hosted” No. 4 Portland on the Bulldogs’ home ice in the semifinal round Saturday evening at Portland Ice Arena and rode the nonpareil talents of senior standout Fortier to live to play another day.
While Portland kept the game close and played hard throughout, it ultimately had no answer for Fortier, who scored four times and assisted on another goal in leading Falmouth to its 18th win in 19 outings, 6-3, ending the Bulldogs’ best season to date at 10-10.
The Yachtsmen advanced to meet York in Wednesday’s regional final.
“We don’t feel pressure, it’s playoffs,” Fortier said. “Everyone’s even. We’re 1-0, basically. We hope to be 3-0.”
Falmouth, which missed the playoffs last year with an 8-10 record, has dominated from the onset this winter, thanks in large part to the return of Fortier, who was at North Yarmouth Academy last school year. The Yachtsmen won their first 16 contests before being upset at home by Brunswick. Falmouth bounced back in the regular season finale to beat Greely, 4-1, earn the best record in the state and the top seed in the West Region, then sat idle for 11 days.
Portland has been one of the sport’s top feel-good stories this winter. The Bulldogs won only 12 games total from 2008-09 through 2010-11, but went 9-9 this season and earned the fourth seed in the West. Wednesday, Portland played in and won its first ever postseason game, eliminating No. 5 Cheverus, 6-2.
The teams met twice in the regular season with the Yachtsmen prevailing each time, 8-4 at Portland Jan. 7 and 9-1 in Falmouth nine days later.
After the Bulldogs gained tons of confidence in the interim, it wasn’t surprising they played the Yachtsmen much tougher Saturday night, but in the end, Portland simply couldn’t stop Fortier.
It took half of the first period for Falmouth to get going, but with 7:16 remaining, Fortier struck for the first time, a wrister from the left circle that eluded Bulldogs junior goalie Leanne Reichert.
Less than two minutes later, Portland drew even thanks to a superb individual effort from junior Drew Barry.
Barry started the play by eluding three defenders and skating in from the right. Her initial shot was saved by Yachtsmen sophomore goalie Kirsten Mazur, but the rebound kicked out to Mazur’s right and Barry skated around the cage and while falling to the ice, fired the rebound into the net to make it 1-1.
With 3:30 to go in the first, the Bulldogs almost went ahead, but senior standout Raechel Allen’s shot was saved, barely, by Mazur’s pad.
With 2:45 showing, Fortier struck again, this time scoring on a breakaway and at the first intermission, Falmouth held a tenuous 2-1 lead.
A mere 18 seconds into the second period, Portland senior Kylie Dalbec (a transfer from North Yarmouth Academy, who’s infused this team with skill and leadership) passed to wide open junior Gabi Cardona (who’s also new to the team this year, from Cheverus) in front, but Cardona’s shot was saved by Mazur. Enter Allen (who scored over 100 goals during her time with the Bulldogs), who was in the optimal spot to send the rebound into the cage, making the score 2-2.
Portland didn’t have much time to celebrate as Fortier struck again with exactly 14 minutes to go in the second, this time eluding a defender before skating in one-and-one with Reichert and tickling the twine.
“I don’t even remember half the goals,” said Fortier. “I think it was a combination of everyone on our team being in the right place. That made it a lot easier. It’s definitely a good feeling going around defenders.”
“We had a plan that the girls tried their hardest to execute, but (Fortier’s) a great player,” lamented Bulldogs coach Courtney Rideout. “She can skate, she can move, she can dangle the puck through people’s legs. We forced her to the outside and made her work. None of the goals were easy.”
While the Bulldogs twice managed to rally and tie, they couldn’t do so a third time. With 11:56 left, a second after a penalty to Allen expired, Fortier drew the defense before passing to a wide open junior Jayde Bazinet for an easy shot and goal which Reichert never saw.
“For us to jump right back after they scored was huge,” said Falmouth coach Rob Carrier. “(Megan’s) the focal point of this team. You look at our goals and I’m sure she’s gotten a huge percentage of them. It’s nice to have a player who’s able to control a game like that. She demands so much attention. On our power play goal, all four of their players rotated to her and she found the open player. She commands so much respect from other teams that it’s hard not to get caught up watching her play.”
With 7:46 to play and Portland freshman Georgia Drew in the box, Fortier struck on the power play with a low shot past Reichert’s glove and Falmouth had a 5-2 advantage heading for the final period.
“Megan’s amazing,” Mazur said. “She’s a great person and an amazing hockey player. I’m happy to have her on my team.”
The Bulldogs wouldn’t quit.
With 11:50 to go, on a two-man power play, Dalbec fired a shot on goal that Mazur denied, but Cardona was there for the rebound and Portland had life, down 5-3.
Still on the power play a minute later, Barry looked to cut the deficit to one, but Mazur made a pad save. With 8:09 remaining, Dalbec split two defenders, but couldn’t get much on her shot and Mazur again stood tall.
“I felt pressure, but I have a lot of trust in my team,” Mazur said. “They’re practically my family. We were expecting (the Bulldogs) to give their all. It’s hard to stop their shots. It’s scary sometimes with me being small. A few times they do hit my face and it hurts. I stick it out. I’m tiny, but I have to make them fear me.”
“Kirsten is only a sophomore and didn’t get a whole lot of playing time last year,” Carrier said. “She took a year to observe and has filled in beautifully. There’s no dropoff from last year.”
Then, with 5:56 left in regulation, the Yachtsmen delivered the coup de grace when senior defensive standout Moie Aaskov scored.
After Mazur saved one final Dalbec rush, Falmouth ran out the clock and celebrated its 6-3 win.
“I think everyone put in a great effort, especially Kirsten,” said Fortier. “I think we really clicked after the first period. We knew we could do better. It’s not what we were capable of. We hadn’t had a lot of ice time the past two weeks. Once they tied it up in the second, we knew we had to take charge. I thought it would be a lot tougher because it’s playoffs and everyone’s playing for their lives. It’s much more intense.”
“We saw them play against Cheverus the other night and they looked like a completely different team from a few weeks earlier when we played them,” Carrier said. “They’re a talented team with three very good players. They figured it out and gave us a good battle tonight. Their passing was much crisper. Their goalie made tougher saves. We hadn’t played a meaningful game in nearly two weeks. We knew we’d be a little rusty.”
While Portland fell short, it made history this winter.
“We turned our season around in the last few weeks,” said Rideout. “That really worked to our advantage. The girls played hard and with a lot of heart. They wanted it. The puck just bounced the wrong way a couple times. We wound up with a couple goal deficit and it was hard to get back. We had momentum at 2-2, but they captured it right back. It was a game of momentum. If we had gotten the first goal, it would have set the momentum for the game, but it didn’t happen. We had seven penalties. When you have seven penalties with the kids you need on the ice, it’s tough. What I’m most of proud of is that we fought to the end and showed we have a lot of class. I couldn’t have asked for them to play any differently.
“We’ve had some lean years. This was a great season. I don’t know how else to describe it other than it was fun. They’re a great group of kids. I think the girls are happy with the season.”
The Bulldogs graduate six seniors, most notably Allen and Dalbec, but it appears the program has turned the corner and should be competitive again in 2012-13.
“We’ll certainly miss our seniors,” Rideout said. “We have big shoes to fill. We lose some, but we keep some and hopefully we’ll pick up some freshmen. We have to keep it up.”
As for Falmouth, it faces second-ranked York (13-3-3 after Saturday’s 2-1 win over Scarborough in the other semifinal) Wednesday, back at Portland Ice Arena for the West Region title.
The Yachtsmen got to the regional final game two years ago, but lost to Cheverus. This time, as the favorite, they hope to finish the job against a team they edged, 2-1, at home, Jan. 14. York will have standout Nicci Heroux on the ice. She didn’t play in the first meeting because of a concussion.
“It won’t be easy,” Mazur said. “It’s scary, especially since I’ve played with some of their players and they might know how I play.”
“York will be a tough game,” said Fortier. “We’ll work really hard Monday and Tuesday and hope for the best.”
“This is my third year and we’ve played three one-goal games against them,” Carrier added. “I’d be surprised if this game doesn’t go into overtime. It won’t be easy. So far, we stood tall in test number one. We’ll go up against a great York team next. I’m looking forward to it.”
Portland senior Lindsey Sneider goes all out to try to slow Falmouth senior Megan Fortier. Fortier had her way all night, scoring four goals and assisting on another.
Falmouth junior Jayde Bazinet and Portland junior Gabi Cardona fight for possession of the puck.
Falmouth sophomore Lucy Meyer gets the better of this encounter with Portland junior Drew Barry.
Portland senior Raechel Allen skates in and prepares to shoot.
Portland freshman Georgia Drew (10) skates to junior Drew Barry to celebrate Barry’s first period goal.
Falmouth junior Jayde Bazinet (10) and sophomore Maddy McDonnell celebrate a goal during the Yachtsmen’s 6-3 win over Portland in Saturday’s West Region semifinal.
More photos below.