Portland girls' hockey makes history
PORTLAND—Raechel Allen, Gabi Cardona and Kylie Dalbec have already led one Portland High School program to previously unmatched heights this school year, helping the field hockey program reach the regional final for the first time.
Now, they're making magic on the ice.
Wednesday afternoon at Portland Ice Arena, the Bulldogs played their first postseason game since the Maine Principals' Association began sponsoring girls' hockey, hosting crosstown rival Cheverus.
While Portland wasn't able to bury the Stags early like they did in two easy regular season wins, the Bulldogs wouldn't be denied forever.
Leading just 1-0 early in the second period, thanks to a first period goal from Dalbec (a senior), Portland erupted for five goals in a little over 10 minutes, as Allen, a senior, had two goals, and Cardona (a junior), Dalbec and senior Lindsey Sneider scored once each and the Bulldogs didn't look back from there, advancing by virtue of a 6-2 victory.
Portland improved to 10-9 and moved on to the West Region semifinals to take on 17-1 Falmouth Saturday at 7 p.m., at PIA. Cheverus' season culminated at 7-12.
"It was really exciting for us," Dalbec said. "Our first playoff win ever. We went out and did our best. We knew we'd have to work harder this time. It's hard to beat a team three times in a row. They have good skaters. We came out and did the best we could and got a good outcome. We have a lot of new girls. Coming into the season, we had high expectations. We're coming together now."
Since the MPA started sanctioning the sport in 2008-09, Portland was well off the radar, winning just 12 games and tying five others in 54 outings over three years.
This winter, everything changed, as a solid core came of age and was bolstered by the addition of Cardona (who became a Bulldog via Cheverus) and Dalbec (who transferred from North Yarmouth Academy).
Portland opened with four wins in five games, downing Biddeford twice and Lewiston and Gorham once each. After a loss at York, the Bulldogs beat Cape Elizabeth and Gorham to improve 6-2. After a four-game skid, Portland had its way with Cheverus, 8-3, as Allen scored her 100th career goal. Losses to powerhouses Scarborough (5-0) and Brunswick (11-4) followed, but the Bulldogs turned around to beat Cape Elizabeth (6-4) and Cheverus again (10-4), before letting a lead slip away in a 5-4 overtime loss to Greely in the regular season finale.
The Bulldogs' 9-9 mark, its best to date, gave it the No. 4 seed in the West Region.
Cheverus, a semifinalist in 2010-11, opened with a win over Brunswick, lost to York, beat Cape Elizabeth, lost to Winslow, beat Gorham, then lost to Falmouth, Scarborough and York to fall to 3-5. After bouncing back with a victory over Biddeford, the Stags lost to Scarborough, but answered with wins over Biddeford and Gorham. Down the stretch, Cheverus went just 1-5, losing to not only Portland, but also Cape Elizabeth, Lewiston, Portland and Yarmouth. The win came over St. Dom's.
Wednesday, while Portland wasn't able to deliver a quick knockout punch like it had in the regular season meetings, it rose to the occasion and advanced.
Just two minutes in, it looked like the Bulldogs would get the jump when Allen broke in free on Cheverus freshman goalie Allie Spinney, but Spinney didn't budge and made the save.
With 9:11 remaining in the first period, Stags junior standout Katie Roy fired a shot that was saved by Portland junior goalie Leanne Reichert, but the rebound sat in front of the goal before it was cleared.
Spinney then returned to center stage, stopping Bulldogs junior Drew Barry after she'd eluded two defenders, then turning aside a backhanded shot from Allen.
Finally, with 6:27 showing, Portland broke the ice and took the lead for good when Dalbec scored, with Cardona and Allen getting assists.
"Rae made a really good pass on my stick," Dalbec said. "Allie's a really good goalie. It was a lucky bounce on my part. It felt good."
With four minutes left in the first, Allen got around two defenders, but again Spinney denied her and despite a 12-1 edge in shots on goal, the Bulldogs only had a 1-0 lead at the intermission.
It didn't take long in the second period for Portland to take control.
Just 34 seconds in, Allen finally tickled the twine, set up by Barry and Dalbec. With 11:28 to go in the second, off a faceoff, Barry fired a shot through a screen that Cardona tipped home to make it 3-0.
"At the beginning of the season, I said, 'I'm not that good at skating, so I'm going to stand in front of the net and screen the goalie,'" Cardona said. "I've gotten most of my goals screening the goalie this year.
"Last year was my first year playing hockey. I learned a lot from (Stags coach) J.P. (Lavoie). It's always fun to play against (Cheverus). I knew they wanted to get the best of me so I went out even harder. I love being part of the team. Everyone's been welcoming. I think we've meshed nicely."
Cheverus got on the board with 9:46 left when Roy scored unassisted and a minute later, the Stags had a golden opportunity to draw even closer, but junior Emily Rodrigue couldn't finish a nice pass from Roy with an open goal awaiting.
The Bulldogs then scored three times in just over three minutes to take a commanding lead.
With 7:20 to go in the second, Dalbec and Allen demonstrated their unique passing skills as Dalbec passed to Allen, who sent the puck right back to Dalbec, who buried it for a 4-1 lead.
"We've played since we were young," Allen said. "We mess around in practice sometimes just passing."
With six minutes left, Allen got her second goal, banging home a shot at the doorstep. Dalbec and freshman Delaney Stokes were credited with assists.
"They have a new goalie and she did very well," Allen said. "We couldn't score at first. Once we knew to move her, we kept passing around to get shots off."
"We knew we had to keep the pressure on," added Portland coach Courtney Rideout. "I knew it would be a tough game. Once we got those couple goals, it set the tone."
After two bids from Cheverus senior Sarah LaQuerre failed to find the net (the first hit the post and the second was saved by Reichert), senior Lindsey Sneider (the lone Deering player on the Portland/Deering co-op team) took a pass from senior Nicola Dipietro and finished a rush with a blast past Spinney.
Thanks to a 9-2 shots advantage, the Bulldogs ended the second period with a 6-1 advantage.
"The second period was tough," said Lavoie. "Portland made good plays. They're a little more talented than we are. We didn't have the breaks and they did. If we scored that second goal, it might have been a different game. Who knows? It didn't happen. It wasn't to be."
To their credit, the Stags played hard until the end.
After Barry hit the post midway through the third period, Cheverus pushed offensively and only a great play by Dalbec (breaking up LaQuerre's rush from behind) and another by Barry (who stopped the speeding Roy in her tracks) kept it off the board.
Finally, with 3:22 to play, Roy scored unassisted on a wrister, which hit the pipe and caromed into the net.
That's as close as the Stags would get and Portland went on to the 6-2 victory.
"It's very exciting for us," Rideout said. "We came into it knowing it would be a hard battle. They switched up their goalie today. We hadn't faced her. It was a new challenge, but the girls stepped up. I'm very proud of them. We didn't back down. We wanted this very badly.
"We have a group of seniors who have put a lot of effort into this season and into Portland hockey. I'm glad for them. I was told at the beginning of the season that we'd be contenders. I didn't know what to expect. (The girls are) very deserving of this win."
The Bulldogs had a 34-10 advantage in shots on goal. Spinney made 28 saves. Reichert stopped eight. Neither team scored on the power play as penalties were few.
While Roy had both Cheverus goals, she was held relatively in check.
"We had two players, Drew Barry and Lindsey Sneider, we told before the game their job was to collapse on (Roy) and it didn't always work out with our matchup," Rideout said. "Their job was to contain her and keep her to the outside."
The Stags did have their chances.
"It felt like we were right in there, then things kind of fell apart a little bit," Lavoie said. "The third period was strong. I thought our kids hung in there. Our goalie played great. I feel good about the season. We have lots of kids who have played for about a year to two years. There's a lot to learn. I think they've come a long way."
Cheverus should be right back in the mix next winter.
"I think the future's bright," said Lavoie. "We're graduating three seniors, so we feel really good about next year."
While beating Cheverus was one thing, upsetting Falmouth, the best team in the state during the regular season, will be quite another.
Portland dropped both regular season meetings with the Yachtsmen, 8-4 at home Jan. 7 and 9-1 at Falmouth, nine days later.
The Bulldogs are playing with house money and will go into that game confident they can slow Yachtsmen senior standout Megan Fortier, shock the world and play on.
"It's exciting," Allen said. "I'm savoring this. Falmouth's going to be tough, but if we play hard, you never know what might happen. We have to mark up and pass and shoot on their goalie like we did today."
"I think it's going to be a fun game," said Dalbec, who played with Fortier last year at NYA. "We'll work our hardest. They're a really good team. Megan's a great player, but they have good skaters. They have a good defensive line. They're quick."
"We're ready," Rideout added. "The first time we played them, we were right with them for two periods and lost, 8-4. By all means we can play with them and we will. We'll see what's to come."