Portland sweeps City Cup games
PORTLAND—It might not have moved the needle outside of the city of the Portland, but Saturday evening's "City Cup" girls' and boys' ice hockey battles between the Bulldogs of Portland High and the Stags of Cheverus was all the rage at Portland Ice Arena, which had a distinct postseason feel.
This time around, the bragging rights went to the Bulldogs.
The Portland girls rang in the festivities with a solid goalkeeping effort from senior Leanne Reichert and got four goals from senior Drew Barry and two more from budding star sophomore Georgia Drew in a 6-3 triumph.
Cheverus' undefeated boys were expected by most to prevail, but the new-look Bulldogs had a different idea and four different goal scorers, a superb penalty kill and a strong game from four-year goalie Jon Gatti proved to be too much for the Stags to overcome, as Portland earned a 4-1 victory.
Drew times two and Leanne too
Both the Cheverus and Portland girls' teams are in transition this winter.
The Stags welcomed a new coach in Amy McNally and with a young squad opened with a mark of 2-4-1 and were coming off a stirring 6-5 overtime victory over Biddeford.
The Bulldogs were hard hit by graduation, most notably by the departure of standouts Raechel Allen and Kylie Dalbec, began the year 1-6-1 and entered the contest on a four-game skid. Portland had reason for optimism, however. The most recent loss, a 6-0 home setback to powerhouse Scarborough Thursday, featured a strong defensive effort, something the Bulldogs felt boded well for Saturday's showdown.
The teams had met once previously this winter in a memorable 8-8 tie back on Nov. 28. In that one, the Bulldogs held a 5-2 after two periods, fell behind, 7-5 and 8-6, then rallied to forge an 8-8 tie. Reichert made 37 saves and Barry had six goals in that one, but a costly penalty to Barry in the third period helped springboard a Stags' comeback as freshman Jill Hannigan and senior Katie Roy each had three goals.
Saturday, it was clear from the get-go that a shootout was not in store.
While Barry and Roy both had some good chances in the early going, Reichert and Cheverus freshman goalie Taylor Courtois stood tall to keep the game scoreless.
Roy would break through with 9:40 to go in the first, scoring shorthanded, to give the Stags a 1-0 lead after one, but the Portland offense can only be held in check so long.
While the Stags were able to neutralize Barry early, they wouldn't have an answer for Drew in the second period.
Just 48 seconds in, the Bulldogs drew even when Drew scored unassisted.
With 12:33 left in the period, Drew struck again, this time assisted by freshman Lauren McIntyre, and just like that, Portland was ahead to stay.
"Georgia was unbelievable," Barry said. "She got us going when we were losing at first."
"Georgia had an incredible game," added Portland coach Courtney Rideout. "Offensively and defensively. She had two goals and could have had more."
The Bulldogs kept the pressure on and Barry finally broke through with 9:26 remaining in the second when she put on a show, eluding two defenders before firing a shot past Courtois to make it 3-1.
It took just 34 seconds for Roy to answer, taking a pass from junior Julia Lambert and beating Reichert to make it 3-2, but after a long scoreless stretch, Barry restored a two-goal bulge with an unassisted tally with 2:21 remaining.
The Stags made things interesting when Hannigan scored unassisted 26 seconds later, making it a one-goal game, 4-3, heading for the final stanza.
In the teams' first meeting, they combined for nine third period goals, six by Cheverus alone.
While the Stags had some great chances to score this time around, they couldn't take advantage and ultimately, Portland finished them off.
Just 24 seconds into the third, Bulldogs senior Georgia Elwell was sent to the penalty box for cross checking, giving Cheverus two minutes to attempt to tie it with an extra skater.
The Stags then got a golden opportunity with 10:44 to play when Barry was sent to the box for tripping.
Surely, Cheverus would capitalize with an extra skater and Portland's best player sitting idle.
Reichert and her defenders stood tall and killed the penalty.
"I was nervous without (Drew) out there, but everyone else has improved so much," Reichert said. "I just had to really focus."
"Normally at least we have Drew on the ice, but the other girls stepped up, played hard and played aggressive," Rideout said. "It speaks volumes that they were able to kill it."
With 8:44 to play, Barry returned to the ice.
What happened next came as no surprise.
Barry got the puck, soared into the offensive zone and while spinning, managed to fire a shot into the net to give the Bulldogs some breathing room. Drew was credited with an assist.
"We were amped up," Barry said. "I knew I could trust my D and Leanne never lets me down. I knew as soon as I got out of the box, I'd show fire like I never had before."
Two minutes later, Barry struck again, this time unassisted after yet another dazzling move, and Portland had a little breathing room, up, 6-3.
"I like the breathing room," Barry said. "A couple extra goals were great for the team."
Cheverus had one last chance with 3:38 to play when Portland senior Nikki Rogers was sent to the box, but once again, the Stags couldn't convert and the Bulldogs were able to celebrate their win as they retained the "City Cup."
"It was awesome," Barry said. "We needed to the keep the Cup ours. I wasn't leaving the rink if we didn't win. We did a really good job on the defensive end against Scarborough. We put a lot of emphasis on pushing offense and shooting on goal tonight. That worked for us."
"It feels great," Reichert said. "I was so happy (to get the Cup). Especially to beat Cheverus. They're a big rival. The defense helped out a lot. We had a lot more offensive opportunities tonight."
"This was important," added Rideout. "We talked before the game about keeping the Cup. It's a big deal for (the girls). The celebration at the end told the story. Every time we play Cheverus, we're ready. I don't know what it is. It's always a fun game. We showed up ready to play today."
Reichert, who didn't even play goalie until last season, continued to turn heads with her 44 saves.
"I'm still kind of a rookie, but I do the best I can," said Reichert. "Playing goalie is all about reaction. I've worked on that."
"Their goalie played great," McNally said. "She got her pads on pucks."
"Leanne never ceases to amaze me," Barry said. "She's the rock of our team. Without her, I couldn't do what I do."
"Leanne is amazing," added Rideout. "Every game, a coach comments to me. Not many believe me when I tell them she's only in her second year."
Cheverus got two goals from Roy (the second was the 100th of her stellar high school career) and one from Hannigan. The Stags certainly had their chances to earn a tie or even a win, but couldn't solve Reichert for most of the night and went 0-for-3 on the power play.
"We had a lot of shots and that was our goal," said McNally. "We said any shot's a good shot. I was happy with our forecheck. We pinned them in their zone a lot and that was helpful. We've developed that since last game. We're young. We have a short bench. We have to be well conditioned. Sometimes that's hard."
Cheverus (fifth in the West Region Heal Points standings, which would give the Stags the last playoff spot if the season ended today) is back in action Thursday at home versus Gorham. Cheverus hosts Cape Elizabeth Saturday. The Stags are coming along on schedule.
"They're great girls,' said McNally. "They have great attitudes and like to work hard. It's fun. For a young team, we're doing really well."
Portland (seventh in Western A) is idle until Jan. 5 and figures to use the momentum of this win to keep on rising.
"It's a huge win," Barry said. "We'll use this and if we play like this, we'll definitely keep getting wins."
"It's a confidence booster times 10," Reichert said. "We've played some good teams, so this is a good thing."
"We played really well against Scarborough and this is a step in the right direction," Rideout added. "We'll only get better."
Entering the boys' contest, the buzz surrounded the undefeated Stags, who had handled visiting Gorham (5-2), York (7-2), host Marshwood (7-1) and visiting South Portland (13-0) in the early going.
Portland, coming off a two-win season, has a new look this winter with two Deering players, senior Gabe Johnson and junior Ben Barnes, on the roster, and a new coach in Chad Hart, who assisted last year. The Bulldogs sandwiched close losses at Noble (3-2) and at home to Cape Elizabeth (4-1) around a 4-2 home win over Kennebunk.
Last year, the Stags took both meetings, 9-0 and 3-2.
This time, the Bulldogs made it clear they were on a mission to earn some respect and take back that chalice.
The hitting was hard and the pace was furious in the early going, but no one could beat Gatti or Cheverus junior goalie Jason Blier.
The game appeared destined to be scoreless after one period but in the final minute, on the power play, Portland broke through as junior Zach Luce managed to steer the puck past Blier for a 1-0 lead. Junior Mike Fuller was credited with the assist.
"We finally settled down, got rid of the nerves," said Luce. "We got a big goal at the end of the period. That put them back on their heels and we never looked back. (Mike and I) both went hard for the puck. It came loose. I don't think (Cheverus) knew where to go. I had some patience with the puck, had a lucky shot and it went in the corner (of the goal)."
"It was back and forth, so to get that goal gave us a lot of confidence to know we had the ability to win the game," Hart said.
The Bulldogs killed a couple penalties in the second period before striking again on offense.
With 6:55 to go in the stanza, junior Chris Eye got in on the fun, scoring on the power play with Fuller getting another assist.
Then, with 3:23 to go, junior Luigi Grimaldi set up senior Caleb Fraser, who made a nice move past a defender before beating Blier to give Portland a stunning 3-0 lead.
The Stags managed to regain a little momentum, however, when sophomore James Kane scored on a power play with 39.5 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 3-1 heading for the final period.
The Bulldogs knew Cheverus would come out flying in the third and that it would have to hang tough to prevail.
"Coach settled us down and told us to get back to position hockey," said Luce. "He told us to do the simple things and it worked out. "
"I told them the first few minutes of the third period would determine the game," Hart said. "Whoever got the next goal, it would be huge. We knew they'd come out flying."
The Stags put the pressure on, but Portland didn't buckle. Gatti stood tall, the defense stayed in position and after killing two penalties, the Bulldogs iced it in the final minute when Luce passed to Fuller, who, after assisting on two goals, got one of his own, of the empty net variety.
That brought the curtain down and Portland was able to wrest the "City Cup" back from Cheverus, 4-1.
"It's big after last year," said Luce. "It means a lot. It puts us back at .500 for the season. It helps us for playoffs with the Heal Points. Everyone's heads are up this year. That makes a big difference. It's all position for us. We're not the fastest or most skilled team, but when we play our position well it pays off."
"It's a big win for us," Hart said. "Cheverus is a really good team. We knew it would be tough. The City Cup is always a big game for us. The boys were ready and played their hearts out. Johnny came up big when we needed him to."
Seven different times, the Bulldogs had to kill a penalty and all but once, they were successful.
That proved to be the difference.
"Penalty kill has been a big part of practice lately," said Luce. "We've worked hard to stay in the middle and not chase too much. We were in great position and they struggled."
"Penalty kill's about guys skating hard, angling off the puck and making the plays they need to make," Hart said. "Last game, we had a lot of practice. I hope to see us use it a little less."
Portland got 25 saves from Gatti and made the most of its man-up opportunities, scoring twice in three such situations.
"This group is great," Hart said. "It's been a smooth transition going from assistant to head coach. (Assistant coach Peter Bermani has) been great. The kids were ready to go this year. We had a tough year last year and that was a big motivator."
Cheverus got 24 saves from Blier, but had to lament missed opportunities.
"Portland showed up," said Stags coach Dan Lucas. "You have to give them credit. They hustled and played well. I knew they'd be up for this game. We had opportunities, but couldn't put the puck in the net. Guys who normally score couldn't put it in the ocean tonight. (Portland) was consistent the whole game. They smelled a successful outcome and kept working at it. They deserved to win. There's a lot of work to be done on the power play. A little frustration set in, but you have to work through that. We didn't make our chances count. As much as I tried to tell them Portland would be ready, they had to learn. That was the lesson."
Cheverus (second to Scarborough in the Western A Heals) is idle until Jan. 3, when it goes to Yarmouth. Two days later, the Stags begin a brutal schedule stretch at two-time defending Class A champion Thornton Academy.
"We're going to be playing a lot of good teams," said Lucas. "Thornton twice, Scarborough twice, Falmouth and St. Dom's. We wanted a stronger schedule this year. We have to show up like Portland did tonight."
As for Portland, now fifth in Western A, it hosts Westbrook Thursday, then has 11 days off before going to Marshwood/Traip Jan. 7. Look for the Bulldogs to build on this victory.
"This was one of our biggest games of the year, so this is a big confidence boost," Hart said. "I think this will get the ball rolling for us. We need to work on some of the little things like penalties, being smarter with the puck and taking it one game at a time. We'll learn from each game and improve throughout the season."