"Next Year" finally comes to Falmouth; Yachtsmen blank Lewiston to win Class A crown
LEWISTON—Since first taking the ice as a varsity program 21 long years ago, the Falmouth boys' hockey team aspired to be a state champion.
Season after season, the Yachtsmen produced competitive (and often great) teams, but seemingly every winter, when the calendar flipped to March, their hopes were dashed in agonizing, gutwrenching and even cruel fashion.
Saturday evening at the Colisee, Falmouth's ship finally came in.
In glorious, emphatic and shutout fashion.
Three nights after finally clearing the regional final hurdle, the Yachtsmen had the daunting task of facing perennial finalist Lewiston, a team riding an offensive tidal wave, on its home ice, in the Class A Final, but instead of coming into the championship game nervous and uncertain, which would have been understandable considering the circumstances, Falmouth simply dazzled on the big stage.
The Yachtsmen carried play most of the first period and got the only goal they would need 11 minutes, 5 seconds in when senior Andrew Emple broke the ice.
Falmouth protected its 1-0 lead through the second period, then, with the game and their legacy hanging in the balance, the Yachtsmen's final 15 minutes were nothing short of brilliant.
Junior Andre Clement etched his name in program lore with two goals in five minutes to push a one-goal lead to three and sophomore Isac Nordstrom ended all doubt with an empty net tally with 2:22 remaining. Falmouth went on to a 4-0 victory and at long last, is the state champion.
The Yachtsmen finished their year at 18-3-1, ended Lewiston's season at 17-4-1 and will long celebrate their ascension to the mountaintop.
"It's surreal," said Falmouth coach Deron Barton. "I'm so happy for the kids. We set our goals in November. I drew it up and said, 'This is what it's going to take.' The guys bought in. We had our highs, we had our lows, as everybody does during the season, but the best thing about these guys is they came together as a family."
Worth the wait
The Yachtsmen made it to the regional final last season before losing to eventual champion Thornton Academy, 8-4. For much of this winter, Falmouth was overshadowed by Scarborough, but instead of struggling in the crucible of the playoffs, these Yachtsmen embraced the spotlight and capped a year that will long be hailed.
After winning its first two games this winter, 5-3 at St. Dom's and 12-0 over visiting Marshwood, Falmouth lost at Scarborough (4-3, in overtime) and at Lewiston (3-2). The Yachtsmen wouldn't falter again for a long time, defeating visiting Gorham (5-3), Greely (3-1, in the Dudley Cup, New Year's Night) and Lewiston (3-1), host Bangor (3-2) and Portland (11-1), visiting Kennebunk (15-0), host Thornton Academy (7-2) and Biddeford (7-2), visiting Bonny Eagle (7-0) and Biddeford (5-0), host Cheverus (4-1) and visiting St. Dom's (3-2, in overtime) to stretch their win streak to a dozen games. The end of the season wasn't kind to Falmouth, however, as it lost at home to Scarborough (2-1) and tied visiting Thornton Academy (3-3) to finish 14-3-1 and second in Western Class A.
After a 7-1 home win over No. 7 Biddeford in the quarterfinals, the Yachtsmen turned the Colisee from a house of horrors into Home Sweet Home as they doubled up No. 3 Gorham in the semis, 6-3, before rallying to shock top-ranked Scarborough in the regional final, 4-3, on senior Hugh Grygiel's late tally.
As for Lewiston, it lost at Scarborough in the opener. After a 3-0-1 stretch, the Blue Devils were bested at Falmouth, then won eight straight before an 8-4 loss to Thornton Academy. Lewiston would close with four straight wins to once again earn the top seed in Eastern A. The Blue Devils then toyed with the regional field, beating No. 8 Edward Little (9-1), No. 5 Brunswick (10-0) and second-ranked Bangor (5-1) to advance.
The teams came into the state game with no playoff history.
While Lewiston's conspicuous championship banner listed multiple titles, Falmouth was trying to overcome a legacy that included a Class B state game loss to Winslow in 1997, five Western B Final defeats and two regional championship setbacks after moving up to Class A.
Saturday, the Yachtsmen etched a championship chapter that will long be hailed.
It was clear from the moment the puck dropped that Falmouth wasn't overwhelmed by the moment or the huge crowd.
"We've got multiple state champions in other sports and they bring that calm confidence to the ice," Barton said. "In the Scarborough game and again in this game, I was a little concerned they were so confident, but they've been here before and knew how to get it done."
The Yachtsmen's first good chance came 2 minutes, 43 seconds in when senior Kris Samaras fed Grygiel in front, but Lewiston senior goalie Evan Bourassa made the save.
The Blue Devils then carried play for a few minutes as junior Evan Gosselin was robbed by Falmouth junior goalie Dane Pauls after a failed clear and after a second turnover, Gosselin had another bid saved by Pauls.
Falmouth broke the ice with 3:55 remaining in the frame and it was some nice passing that got the job done as Samaras fed Emple just behind the right circle and Emple's low shot eluded Bourassa to his glove side. Senior J.P. White was also credited with an assist.
"We were open all game," Emple said. "When we cycled down low, we sucked their offense in. Kris Samaras sent me the pass. J.P. White was posting up in his office, screening the goalie. He never saw it."
"(Getting the first goal) was a mental and momentum shift," Barton said. "It changes the opposition's game plan. There's not enough talk about that. It was huge for us."
Through 15 minutes, the Yachtsmen had an 8-3 shots advantage.
In the second period, neither team scored, but both had chances.
Just over a minute in, Clement was denied by Bourassa.
With 11:20 to play in the second, Samaras had a low shot saved.
With 9:05 showing, Lewiston junior Matt Poulin was just wide on a rebound.
At the other end, Samaras was robbed point blank.
Poulin had another bid denied by Pauls, but on the play, Clement was whistled for a high sticking penalty.
The Blue Devils managed to go on the power play for all of 14 seconds before junior Kyle Lemelin's tripping transgression made it 4-on-4 situation
Pauls held the lead the rest of the stanza.
"It was a heart attack for me," Pauls said. "(Lewiston) put a lot of pressure on me. The defense did an unbelievable job of keeping them to the outside and letting me see the shots. Credit to them."
"Our second period was a period we deviated from our game plan," Barton said. "We tried to move the puck and have an extra stick handle and stride. We didn't get it deep. We had to play in our own end. That took gas out of our tank. We gave up scoring opportunities. The guys knew what the problem was and they corrected it."
Falmouth took a 1-0 lead to the third period and wasn't content to sit on its advantage.
That aggressive approach paid off just 44 seconds in, when Clement scored the all-important second goal of the evening. Off a faceoff win, the puck came to senior William Mullin, who put a shot on goal that was saved by Bourassa. Unfortunately for Lewiston, the puck came back to Clement and he buried the rebound for a 2-0 lead.
"We just wanted to keep our game plan simple," Clement said. "Dump the puck deep. That's how we generated our offense. Playing good defense, transferring that to the neutral zone, getting it deep. That worked well for us. We got it deep, got a shot and a rebound. I was in the right place at the right time. That goal was key. It carried us through the rest of the period."
"The second goal was enormous," said Barton. "At that point, it added a different level of energy. We were off to the races. Andre's a big-game player. He was destined to have a big night. He was a go-to guy. He does whatever he's asked."
Lewiston had a chance six seconds later when Mullin was called for a tripping penalty, but the Yachtsmen killed the penalty and with 9:25 to go, Clement, after hanging back at center-ice, took a long lead pass from senior Jack Pike, skated in on Bourassa and after momentarily losing control of the puck and having an initial shot saved, pounded home the rebound to make it 3-0 and put Falmouth on the brink of glory.
"Two goal leads are the toughest in any sport because it's all momentum," Clement said. "I saw Pike come around the corner. I knew he'd either chip it or give it to Billy. I had speed. I was all alone and came in on the breakaway. I sort of lost it. I didn't give up. I shoved it in and got lucky."
"(Andre) put a few home," Grygiel said. "Clutch. That's all I can say."
"He's been huge all year," said Emple. "He's a great player. I can't say enough about him. He worked really hard and made those chances for himself."
From there, Falmouth did all it could to keep the Blue Devils at bay and with 2:22 showing, Nordstrom buried an empty net bid and the Yachtsmen were fully in control, up, 4-0.
From there, it was just a matter of time and at 7:37 p.m., Falmouth's coveted championship was secured. Players actually poured on to the ice with a couple seconds to play and mobbed Pauls in a no-holds barred celebration.
"It feels unbelievable," Pauls said. "We kind of had a curse on us. I knew we were ready for this game. (Scarborough) was the biggest game of the season. Once we got past that, we had momentum and we had the edge. They always say a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. It's tough. Once we got the third and fourth ones, I relaxed a little bit."
"I can't even describe it," Grygiel said. "It's unreal. I think we just carried in the momentum from Scarborough. We were confident in our style. We wanted to stick to the system, get the next goal and from there, play tight D."
"It means everything," Clement said. "I've seen multiple teams play before us. It's the biggest weight off our chest, for the whole program. It was our year to do it. It's unbelievable. We knew it was just another hockey game. You can't overprepare for these kinds of games because you psyche yourselves out. We had to keep it basic and execute our plan and everything would fall into place."
"It's unreal, I can't really describe it," added Emple. "It means so much to all the seniors. We finally got it. We wanted to win so badly. We had to finish business tonight and we did. We're used to playing here and we had a great fan section. Lewiston's a great team. We knew they'd come hard. We had to counter hard and we did. They were a hot offense that had the ability to score in bunches. We had to limit their good players and we did a good job of that. It was still anyone's game at 1-0. We knew if we played like we did in the first period, we'd be successful. The result says it all.
"We have so many seniors who have played together since fifth grade. This is all we've wanted. We said our lunch table in fifth grade, 'Senior year we're going to win it.' We have great chemistry and get along so well together. It showed out here tonight."
Barton felt the title was about more than just the players.
"It's extra special," Barton said. "I'm just happy I could be a part of it. The Falmouth community has always wanted to define themselves with a championship and a tradition. I think this is the beginning of that.
"We had some low points the last third of our season that were dangerously close to the playoffs. The coaches called attention to that and brought them to the seniors and captains and told them the changes they needed to make. They did. Coming out of that tie against Thornton, we ramped up again. It's a selfless group. In the playoffs, you have impact players who emerge. That's why the team's so important. It was a true team effort."
The Yachtsmen got goals from three different players, assists from four others, outshot Lewiston, 22-17, and got 17 saves from Pauls.
The Blue Devils were 0-for-3 man-up. Bourassa made 19 saves.
Next November, instead of beginning a season obsessing over winning a championship, the 2013-14 Yachtsmen will be defending one.
The loss of seniors Emple, Grygiel, Mullin, Pike, Samaras, White, Alden Bohrmann and Ethan Low will certainly be felt.
"I can't say enough about the seniors," Barton said. "They led the whole way. On the ice. Off the ice. It's such a treat to have those guys as leaders."
Despite the departures, Falmouth will once again have a strong team next year and hopes to be the last team standing once more.
"I hope we can do it again," said Clement. "Now, we have something under our belts. I look forward to next year."
"I'm ready to go," Pauls said. "I'll start it up right now."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Falmouth state game
1997 Class B
Winslow 6 Falmouth 2