Falmouth defies history, shocks Scarborough
LEWISTON—The Falmouth boys' hockey team faced more than just a one-goal deficit late in the third period of Tuesday evening's Western Class A Final against Scarborough at the Colisee.
The Yachtsmen also had to contend with the albatross of history, a self-described "curse" which had produced playoff heartbreak after playoff heartbreak dating back to the last century.
Despite outshooting the top-ranked Red Storm by a 2-to-1 margin and leading by a goal on two different occasions, No. 2 Falmouth found itself down, 3-2, with less than four minutes to play and stared another gutwrenching ending square in the face.
This Yachtsmen team, however, is cut from a different cloth and did they ever reverse the trend.
With 3:26 to play, sophomore Isac Nordstrom scored on a rebound to tie the score and after Falmouth got additional good news by getting to go on the power play, clutch senior Hugh Grygiel, who had witnessed some of the program's more agonizing defeats as a young fan, delivered the go-ahead tally a mere 17 seconds later.
The Yachtsmen, thanks to a gorgeous save from junior goalie Dane Pauls with 23 seconds remaining, managed to hold on and win, 4-3, prevailing in a regional final after six successive bouts of futility, improving to 17-3-1, ending Scarborough's win streak at 18 games and its season at 19-2 and advancing to meet Lewiston on the biggest stage of all, the Class A state final, Saturday at 6 p.m., back at the Colisee.
"One (of my older brothers) lost in the Western Maine Final and one lost in the semis, so I wanted to win for them," Grygiel said. "I thought we'd be doomed by the Falmouth curse tonight, but we broke the curse. We have a core group of seniors. Everyone's in it for each other. We're best friends. We've dreamed about this. We decided this is the year we'd do it. It sounds corny, but it's destiny."
Falmouth and Scarborough have been on a collision course all season.
The Yachtsmen made it to the regional final last season before losing to eventual champion Thornton Academy. After winning its first two games this winter, Falmouth lost at Scarborough (4-3, in overtime) and at Lewiston (3-2), but bounced back to prevail on 12 straight occasions before losing at home to Scarborough (2-1) and tying visiting Thornton Academy (3-3) to finish 14-3-1 and second in Western Class A.
The Red Storm was eliminated by Falmouth in last year's semis and with one exception had been untouchable this season with arguably the finest team in program history. Scarborough edged visiting Lewiston in the opener, 2-1, then suffered its only setback, 1-0, at St. Dom's, way back on Dec. 12. The Red Storm didn't stumble again and won most of its games easily.
The teams came to the Colisee Tuesday having met four prior times in the postseason, which Scarborough taking the first three before Falmouth captured last year's semi, 5-3. They met in a regional final way back in 1996, when Scarborough was known as the Redskins and the teams played in Class B. In that one, Scarborough prevailed, 3-1.
The Yachtsmen got to the state final the next season, but ever since had known far more than their share of playoff agony. Falmouth lost games in five overtimes, four overtimes, on a breakaway in double overtime and on a penalty shot with 22 seconds to go, all in a five-year span. Since joining Class A for the 2003-04 season, the Yachtsmen made it to the semifinals every year and to the regional final twice, but never further.
Tuesday, they finally did in a game which, as expected, came down to the wire.
Just five seconds in, after the Red Storm won the faceoff, junior Jake Gross had a good look at the goal, but shot wide.
The Yachtsmen's first good look came on the power play less than three minutes in when junior Alden Weller fired a wrister that Scarborough senior goalie Dalton Finley turned aside.
With 9:02 to play in the first period, Falmouth senior William Mullin was robbed by Finley with a pad save, but the Yachtsmen kept the play alive and went ahead, 1-0, when Grygiel scored on a rebound (senior J.P. White was credited with an assist).
Falmouth continued to carry play much of the period, but after going on the power play again, the Yachtsmen immediately gave the lead back.
Scarborough senior Trevor Murray won the puck and broke free across the red line, playing the puck ahead in the process. Pauls reacted and came way out of the net in an attempt to break up the play. Pauls denied Murray a shot, but the puck came to Gross and with Pauls well out of position, Gross fired a shot into the net to tie the game, 1-1.
"I thought (the puck) was coming at me more quickly than it was," Pauls said. "I tried to sprawl and take him and the puck out. It almost worked. They caught a good bounce and credit to them, they put it in."
"I thought it was the right play," Falmouth coach Deron Barton said. "I thought he was aggressive. That's how we coach him. We want him attacking the puck. It was unlucky bounce. They picked it up and scored. That didn't give a true indication of how that period went. I thought we carried that period."
The first period ended, 1-1, with Falmouth leading in shots, 8-5.
The Yachtsmen promptly retook the lead, 2-1, 1:55 into the second period when senior Jack Pike left a nice drop pass for junior Tyler Jordan, who was wide open in front and able to beat Finley for a 2-1 advantage.
Falmouth wouldn't score again for a long time and the Red Storm answered.
Just 48 seconds later, after a Yachtsmen turnover, sophomore Matt Henderson fired the puck to junior Cam Loiselle, who beat Pauls to make it 2-2.
After Falmouth sophomore Jake Grade was sent to the penalty box for tripping at the 4:09 mark, Scarborough was able to take advantage on the power play and went ahead for the first time as senior captain Ryan Bailer set up senior and captain Nick Bagley for the go-ahead tally and a 3-2 lead. Junior Garrett McDonald was also credited with an assist.
Later in the period, the Yachtsmen were frustrated when a Grade shot was denied by Finley and Jordan had the puck taken away by Red Storm junior Cam Brochu at the last second.
Just inside the final minute, Falmouth got a break when McDonald was sent off for high sticking, but a Jordan bid was saved by Finley.
The Yachtsmen had a 13-5 shots advantage in the period, but still trailed.
The frustration continued for most of the third period before Falmouth finally broke through.
The Yachtsmen had 62 seconds of power play to start the final stanza, but couldn't score.
With 8:47 to play, Grygiel won a loose puck and shot, but Finley stood tall.
A little over a minute later, Falmouth senior Kris Samaras shot wide.
As the clock went under four minutes, the Yachtsmen's hopes appeared grim, but this time, fate would be on their side.
The tying goal came out of a scrum after sustained pressure as Nordstrom found himself in the right place at the right time to ram home a loose puck, making it 3-3.
"I just crashed the net and the puck was there," Nordstrom said. "The goalie couldn't see it and I banged it in. That was the best goal I've scored so far."
"All season long, our third period's been our strongest period," said Barton. "We're well conditioned. I have three lines who can play. All I wanted to do was make sure to keep it close. I knew we'd get opportunities and it finally came."
On the play, McDonald was called for a slash and had to come off, meaning Falmouth hadn't just tied the game, but now would have a golden opportunity to go ahead.
Sure enough, the Yachtsmen did precisely that and it took all of 17 seconds.
Grygiel, not surprisingly, would take centerstage, finishing a pass from Weller and when he beat Finley with 3:09 remaining, Falmouth rejoiced.
"I was wide open," Grygiel said. "Alden, the heads-up player he is, comes around and hit me far ice. I got it. The ice was a little chippy, so I fumbled it a little bit. I heard J.P. White yelling, 'Shoot. Shoot.' I took his advice and threw it low blocker side. Boom. The momentum was like a tidal wave over us."
"I was thinking overtime, but when I saw Grygiel get the puck, I knew he was going to score," Nordstrom said.
"No question, (Hugh's) a special player" Barton added. "A gamer. When it's on the line, he gets stronger. His line mate, Kris Samaras, is behind the scenes. Hugh would be the first to tell you that without Kris, he's nothing. Kris is the one who makes moves and gets him the puck and lets him score. I can't say enough about them as leaders on and off the ice. I'm really proud of them."
The win wasn't quite official, however, and after some momentarily struggles to produce an attack, the Red Storm made things very interesting.
In the final minute, Scarborough pulled Finley for an extra attacker. Coming out of a timeout, the Red Storm got the puck to Murray, who fired a low shot that appeared goal bound, but somehow, Pauls managed to kick it harmlessly aside.
"It's kind of muscle memory at this point," Pauls said. "I don't think about it. I kind of moved over, did a little split and luckily got it. It's one of the greater hockey moments I'll ever have. I get lit up in practice by these guys, so I wasn't worried about us scoring one or two more. I was more worried about keeping the puck out of the net."
From there, Falmouth forced two faceoffs and on the second, Weller won possession of the puck and skated out the clock.
At 10:13 p.m., it was finally official.
The Yachtsmen were Western A champions, 4-3.
"We didn't want to give up," Nordstrom said. "We were so close last year. We knew we were going to win the game."
"We found out it's hard to beat a good team three times like everyone says," said Grygiel. "That clock ticks down really fast when you're down a goal. Funny how time goes slowly when you're ahead."
"I'm most happy for the seniors," Pauls said. "They're our core. We have great leadership. Without them, we wouldn't be anywhere. Our coach will do anything for us. Our coaching staff drills us every day. We're not even a team anymore. We're a family. We're best friends. It's a huge win for us. The best day of my life. They always say the third time's the charm. We thought we had the odds in our favor. We were confident and prepared. It's a real team win."
"I'm new to the program, but I know that there are a handful of players who had siblings who experienced frustrations," Barton added. "It's huge for the program and the community. They love their hockey in Falmouth. I'm glad we could deliver for them."
Falmouth finished with a 32-18 shots advantage and scored once on four power play opportunities. Pauls made 15 saves.
Finley stopped 28 shots for the Red Storm, which was 1-of-3 with an extra skater.
Scarborough was left in agony.
"It's a devastating end," said legendary Red Storm coach Norm Gagne. "The bounces don't always go your way. It's a hard lesson for young men to learn, but it's part of the game.
"(Falmouth) did a good job defensively on us. We took advantage in certain situations. We were able to get the lead and keep it for a good part of the game. We had a chance to tie it up, but (Pauls) came up big. We knew we'd be in for a battle. They got the bounce tonight. You have to stay disciplined and we lost our composure at the end and that cost us the game. When you get in that position and you're ahead by one, you want to race to the end and get running around and lose thoughts of where you're supposed to be. The key with a team like this is you have to play good defensive zone coverage. Credit to them. They took advantage. They could sense we were running around and got a good shot. They had the composure at the end to do that."
Scarborough loses seven seniors, but will be a factor again next season when, like Falmouth, it hopes to finally break through.
"I had a good group of seniors who I think established what I think we need to do from here on," Gagne said. "They set a good example."
Saturday evening, Falmouth will take the ice for its first ever Class A state final (and first in any class since losing to Winslow, 6-2, in the 1997 Class B Final). The Yachtsmen will face the daunting task of battling perennial finalist Lewiston (17-3-1 after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Bangor in the Eastern A Final), which will be playing on its home ice as it seeks its first championship since 2002. Falmouth split with the Blue Devils in the regular season, losing, 3-2, at the Colisee and winning, 3-1, at home. The teams have no playoff history.
Now that they've come this far, the Yachtsmen are primed to finish the job.
"We have to keep playing our game, stay positive and play like a team," Nordstrom said.
"We need to stay focused and give it another 150 percent effort," Pauls said. "We're fairly evenly matched. It will come down to effort and focus."
"We'll go make history," said Grygiel. "We have to keep grinding out victories. I think we'll be excited with the results."
"Lewiston's a very good team," Barton added. "They didn't get to this point without having a quality team. They're dangerous. We have to respect them and we will. We love this building. We're ready to go."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Falmouth-Scarborough playoff meetings
2012 Western A semifinals
Falmouth 5 Scarborough 3
2007 Western A semifinals
Scarborough 5 Falmouth 1
1996 Western B Final
Scarborough 3 Falmouth 1
1994 Western B quarterfinals
Scarborough 2 Falmouth 1 (2 OT)