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Falmouth makes the Grade...Yachtsmen down St. Dom's in OT to repeat as Class A champs

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Falmouth makes the Grade...Yachtsmen down St. Dom's in OT to repeat as Class A champs

LEWISTON—This one was too good, too special in fact, to be confined to 45 minutes.

Saturday evening, in front of over 3,000 fortunate fans on the biggest stage in Maine high school hockey, the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, the Falmouth Yachtsmen and St. Dominic Academy Saints put on a terrific show in the Class A state finale, a magnificent coda to a memorable season.

The defending champion Yachtsmen, no sure bet to repeat when the season started, faced a Saints squad starved for their 25th all-time championship, yet first since 2000.

St. Dom's demonstrated that hunger early, putting the Falmouth defense and senior goalie Dane Pauls under pressure from the get-go, then taking a 1-0 lead 12 minutes, 12 seconds in on a goal from junior Caleb Labrie.

Still trailing by a 1-0 margin more than five minutes into the second period, the potent Yachtsmen offense finally got going when junior Isac Nordstrom banged home a rebound.

Back came the Saints and they retook the lead, 2-1, on a power play goal from Labrie with 6:44 left in the second, but 28 seconds later, in a huge swing of momentum, Falmouth went on the power play for the only time all evening and tied things up when junior Jake Grade (remember that name) blasted home a shot from just inside the blue line.

Neither squad scored the remainder of the second period or all of the third (although each had a golden opportunity in the final minute of regulation) and the 2013-14 champion would need overtime to be crowned.

A little less than three minutes into OT, it appeared Grade might play the goat, as he committed a tripping penalty, but St. Dom's couldn't convert on the power play and Grade soon redeemed himself in storybook fashion.

With just 1:17 left in overtime, Falmouth, a program that not too long ago was best known for a series of gutwrenching postseason losses, earned the sweetest victory in its history when Grade took a pass from junior Hunter Low and fired a shot past Saints senior goalie Caleb Dostie to give the Yachtsmen a 3-2 win and unleash an epic celebration.

Falmouth made it two straight Class A titles as it finished 17-5, ending St. Dom's' memorable run at 13-8-1.

"It's just unbelievable. I'm speechless," Grade said, moments after fulfilling every player's most fervent fantasy. "I've always dreamed about this. We didn't have one easy game. Every team came at us hard. We just had to take every game the same way. We couldn't let up at all. This is the best team I've ever played on."

"I've been around this game my entire life and I've never coached or played in anything close to this," added Yachtsmen coach Deron Barton. "It's super special. It was just a great night of hockey. There really was no loser out here. That was a great hockey game."

Instant classic

Back in the preseason, not many would have pegged Falmouth and St. Dom's to be the last teams standing come March and even when the playoffs began, this pairing seemed unlikely, but both proud programs fought their way through their respective regional tournaments.

Falmouth had its share of ups and downs this season, but finished with a flourish.

After opening with a 10-2 home victory over Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth lost at Scarborough, 2-0. The Yachtsmen beat visiting St. Dom's, 3-1, but the up-and-down play continued with a 7-2 loss at Messalonskee. After closing 2013 with a 4-1 home win over Thornton Academy and a 6-3 home victory over Biddeford, the new year began with a stirring 4-3 overtime win over two-time defending Class B champion Greely in the Dudley Cup. After falling at home to Cheverus (1-0) and at Lewiston in a state game rematch (3-1), Falmouth handled visiting Portland/Deering (7-1), then, after an 18-day break, which included some non-countable games against top-notch competition in Massachusetts, won at St. Dom's, 5-4, and held off visiting Bangor, 3-1. After winning, 6-2, at Yarmouth, the Yachtsmen lost at Bangor (6-3), won overtime games at Biddeford (8-7) and Thornton Academy (6-5), then handled visiting Lewiston (6-1) and Scarborough (4-3) to earn the top seed for the playoffs.

After breezing past No. 8 South Portland in the quarterfinals, 10-0, Falmouth got pushed in the semifinals by No. 4 Noble/Wells, but eked out a 5-4 win. Tuesday, in the Western A Final, the Yachtsmen handled No. 2 Scarborough in surprisingly easy fashion, 5-2.

St. Dom's' road wasn't as smooth.

The Saints edged Scarborough in overtime in their opener, lost to Falmouth and after beating Cheverus, dropped games against Lewiston (in overtime) and Bangor and tied Greely to start 2-3-1. After winning four straight, St. Dom's lost to Scarborough, Falmouth and Lewiston to find itself 6-6-1. The Saints finished with four wins in their final five outings, however, falling only to Bangor in the finale, and entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in Eastern A.

St. Dom's wasn't the favorite, but managed to win the region, thanks to a 9-0 blanking of No. 6 Edward Little in the quarterfinals, a 4-2 upset of second-ranked Lewiston in the semifinals and a 3-1 victory over top-ranked Bangor in the regional final.

Falmouth came in 1-1 all-time in state games (the Yachtsmen lost the 1997 Class B Final to Winslow, 6-2, and blanked Lewiston in last year's Class A Final, 4-0), while St. Dom's has been winning championships since 1947, when it began a run of 11 straight Class A crowns. The Saints were also atop the heap from 1959-61 and 1964-67 and in 1978, 1986, 1988, 1994, 1999 and 2000.

The teams had played three previous times in the playoffs.

The Yachtsmen downed the Saints, 7-1, in the 2007 quarterfinals and 2-0 in the 2008 semifinals. The teams last met in the playoffs in the 2009 regional final, a 3-1 St. Dom's triumph.

While Falmouth beat St. Dom's twice during the regular season: 3-1 at home way back on Dec. 12 and 5-4 in Auburn Jan. 29, the Yachtsmen knew a third victory would not come easily and as it turned out, that's exactly how this delicious state final played out.

The Saints came out flying and just 47 seconds in, Pauls was tested as St. Dom's junior captain Brad Berube made a great move to elude a defender and set up senior Chase Hainey in front, but Pauls made the save.

It took nearly three minutes for Falmouth to register its first shot, a bid from senior Tyler Jordan. Jordan, who had a hat trick in the regional final, wasn't as fortunate this time, being denied by Dostie.

The Yachtsmen started heating up and kept the pressure on, as Nordstrom had a shot in close saved and after getting to the rebound, Nordstrom was denied again. After a turnover, senior captain Andre Clement had a look, but Dostie turned it aside. After Pauls stopped a back-handed bid from Labrie, Clement got free in front, but again couldn't finish.

Then, with 2:48 to go in the opening period, St. Dom's broke the ice.

The goal came in transition, as junior Dillon Pratt passed to junior Cameron Stewart, who fed Labrie for a blast which got past Pauls for a 1-0 Saints' lead.

The goal marked the first time in nearly four state game periods, that Pauls had been beaten.

Undaunted, Pauls kept the score 1-0 in the final minute of the first, robbing Hainey after he stole the puck from a defender.

While Falmouth held a 10-9 edge in shots on goal, the Yachtsmen were behind and had some work to do.

"(St. Dom's) came at us with everything they had," Barton said. "That's not the team we faced earlier in the season. I have a ton of respect for those guys and their coaching staff. To put it together like that and come out hard like that, they had us on our heels. We gave away the first period and we had to regroup and come back."

Sure enough, the Yachtsmen showed what they were made of in the second period.

Just 44 seconds in, Nordstrom fired a back-handed shot just wide.

Falmouth then had to kill a penalty and did so, thanks to the defense, which blocked a couple shots.

After Pauls stopped a one-timer from St. Dom's senior Tyler Sirois, the Yachtsmen finally tickled the twine.

The equalizer came with 9:14 left in the second and was one of those gritty goals that result from hard work and determination.

And a little luck.

Clement put a shot on net, the puck bounced around, deflected off Falmouth freshman Chris Camelio and fell to Nordstrom at the left post and Nordstrom cleaned up, firing it into the cage to make it 1-1.

"We didn't get pucks deep to start," Nordstrom said. "We didn't keep our discipline. My goal was just (Clement) coming up the line. He shot it, it hit some pads, hit Chris in the stomach and came right to me and I was right there at the post."

St. Dom's almost retook the lead immediately, but Pauls robbed Berube point blank.

At the midway point of the second, Clement went to the penalty box for hooking and this time, the Saints capitalized.

After Stewart shot just wide, Pratt set up Labrie, who fired the puck over Pauls' left shoulder into the net for a 2-1 lead with 6:44 to go in the second. Junior Mitchell Lorenz was also credited with an assist.

But just when it appeared St. Dom's had the momentum, the Saints gave it back.

Twenty-eight seconds after the goal, after a Falmouth player pushed Dostie into the cage after the whistle, St. Dom's senior Avery Jones retaliated with a push and that's what the officials saw, as they sent Jones to the penalty box for roughing.

In what would prove to be their lone power play, the Yachtsmen produced the tying tally.

Twice, Grade wound up and shot from the blue line, but the first bid went just wide and the second smashed into Dostie's mask, forcing a delay.

After the teams returned to the ice, Grade got a third opportunity and didn't miss, firing through traffic to make it 2-2 with 4:42 to go in the second. Clement and Jordan had assists.

"I missed the net wide and they had that equipment timeout," said Grade. "I came over and Coach told me I had to put it low and maybe in a little bit more and take a little off it. Sure enough, I was lucky enough to get it to go in."

"In a game like this, it makes all the difference in the world to stay disciplined," Barton said. "We were fortunate and we capitalized on that power play. It was a turning point, for sure."

It would take 26 minutes and 25 seconds of game action for another goal to be scored, but there were plenty of close calls in the meantime.

Late in the second period, Falmouth senior Brandon Boehm was robbed in front and that preserved the 2-2 score.

The third period felt as if "sudden victory" overtime was already underway.

Just 12 seconds in, Saints sophomore Austin Roy redirected a shot on target, but Pauls made the save.

Sirois then pounced on a turnover and had a good look, but shot just wide.

With 12:54 to go, Pauls went to the glove to save a shot from Labrie.

At the other end, Falmouth freshman Robert Armitage had a look, but Dostie made the stop.

Junior captain Brandon Peters then had two shots for the Yachtsmen, but the first was high and the second was saved.

With 9:17 to play in regulation, the Yachtsmen were forced to play man-down again, as freshman Henry Norris was sent off for two minutes after hooking.

Labrie sent a shot high on the Saints' only scoring chance and Falmouth managed to kill the penalty.

With 6:37 remaining, a blast from Falmouth freshman Reece Armitage crossed up Dostie, but he managed to get a piece of the puck and make the save.

After Boehm sent a long shot high, Nordstrom managed to get off a quick shot after a faceoff win, but Dostie made the save.

That set up a frenetic final minute.

With 48.8 seconds left, Stewart had a shot saved by Pauls. Clement then broke in on Dostie, but the goalie got a piece of the puck to keep it out of the net.

After a Nordstrom shot was deflected wide, St. Dom's transitioned to offense as the clock wound down.

With the Saints vast cheering section rising as one in anticipation of a goal that would end 14 years of waiting, Pratt broke in on Pauls and the stage was set for the game-winner, but Pauls wouldn't be denied, getting a piece of the puck and deflecting it just over the crossbar.

"It actually nicked my arm, luckily," Pauls said. "I got really lucky on that one. It was just muscle memory."

It was on to overtime, where the first goal would determine the champion.

The ice doesn't get the Zamboni treatment after the third period, so the teams had just a couple minutes to collect themselves and prepare for the ecstasy and agony that awaited.

Falmouth never had any doubt that it would enjoy a happy ending.

"Going to overtime was scary, but knowing we won three games in overtime this year, we were comfortable," Nordstrom said.

"It was a pretty traditional message, put everything on net," Barton said. "Everything had to go on net and we had to be there for the rebound. Historically, overtime goals go in from anywhere. We kept the shifts short and kept going."

The Yachtsmen had the first good look in OT, but Nordstrom's shot was saved by Dostie.

After Grade had a shot blocked and Nordstrom shot just wide, Nordstrom got a back-hander on net, but Dostie stood tall.

Then, disaster almost struck for Falmouth.

With 5:12 left in the first overtime (the teams would have kept playing overtimes until someone scored), Grade was called for a trip and was sent to the penalty box for two minutes.

The Yachtsmen's season now rode on the shoulders of Pauls and the penalty kill.

And they sparkled.

After Stewart had a shot saved by Pauls' glove, Clement blocked a bid from St. Dom's junior Matt Chasse. As the penalty wound down, Stewart sent a long bouncing shot on frame, but Pauls stopped it and Grade returned to the ice.

"I couldn't even watch that penalty kill," said Grade. "I was confident in the boys that they'd kill it off and they did."

Grade's evening was about to get even more eventful.

After a Peters rush was broken up by Jones, the puck came into the Falmouth zone, but St. Dom's wasn't able to produce a shot.

That set up the winning sequence.

One which began with a bang and ended with a blast.

Seconds after being on the losing end of a collision with Hainey, Grade got up and skated into Falmouth lore.

Low got the puck, skated across the blue line and sent it back to Grade.

Grade, who was born for a moment like this, never hesitated, wound up and fired one of his patented rockets and Dostie never had a chance.

At 7:56 p.m., as the clock showed 1:17 remaining in overtime, after a 111-minute passion play, the prettiest tickling of the twine any Yachtsmen will ever see played out and the championship was in the books.

Falmouth 3 St. Dom's 2.

Wow.

"I took that penalty, came out on the ice and got buried in the corner down there," said Grade, who, along with Reece and Robert Armitage and junior Connor MacDowell, grew up playing hockey on a neighborhood pond and in his family's basement, storybook material if there was. "I got up and saw Hunter at the point and said, ‘I’ve got to get this over,’ and like Hunter had been doing all game, he got the puck over and made a great pass. I buried my head and just put it in."

Grade playing the role of hero didn't come as a surprise.

"Jake was a forward last year," Nordstrom said. "With his shot, he's amazing. He came out of that penalty and kept his head. I didn't see a lot. I got the puck to Brandon and Brandon gave it up to Hunter and Hunter got it to Jake. I was trying to screen and I saw it go in."

"There's nothing new there with (Jake) putting the puck in the net," Pauls said. "It was just chaos. The greatest feeling ever."

"We drilled on shooting this week," Barton added. "We knew they'd come hard with bodies to try and block shots and they did block some. They knew Jake's a shooter. Jake picked his spot. He let it go and we got lucky. I couldn't control my emotions when it went in. I'm still in awe of the whole thing. You get numb after awhile. If you didn't, I don't know how you'd survive it."

As the puck flew into the net, the Falmouth bench emptied as the team mobbed Grade in celebration.

It hadn't come easily, but the Yachtsmen were champions once more.

"We had the experience and that's why I think we pulled it out," Grade said. "It was a team effort. It could have gone either way. Right down to the end, Class A was so tight all season."

"I could barely stand up when I skated out for overtime," Pauls said. "I'm just glad we won it. This game was unbelievable. I think we were confident. The big momentum change was when we killed the penalty. Once we did that, I felt pretty good. It's more fun when you win when it's a really close one. All these guys have busted their butts all year long. I couldn't ask for a better way to go out."

"This feels great," Nordstrom said. "It's the most fun you can have. Everyone here loves hockey and everyone who loves hockey loves playing on a big stage."

"St. Dom's didn't leave anything on the ice, so it's really too bad there had to be a winner and a loser because it was an amazing hockey game," Barton added. "I thought we took control of the game late in the third period and in overtime. I have to give it to the kids. They prepared. They knew what they were up against. They proved everyone wrong the whole way. I'm proud of them. This means everything.It's great for the game of hockey in general.  It's powerful. I wouldn't change it for the world."

The Yachtsmen have gone from snake-bitten to stardust-sprinkled and the players credit one man for the transformation.

"Coach Barton does a great job," said Grade. "He doesn't give up at all. Every practice is high tempo. He prepares us for every game perfectly. All the credit to him."

"Coach is a big part of it," said Pauls. "He's done an excellent job of changing the program. Once everyone bought in, we worked together and we never looked back."

Falmouth finished with a 26-22 edge in shots on goal. Pauls made 20 saves in his swan song. The Yachtsmen were a perfect 1-for-1 on the power play.

The Saints got 23 saves from Dostie and converted 1-of-4 power play opportunities as it ultimately fell just short.

“You’re in overtime and you’re just hoping to get that great opportunity," said St. Dom's coach Steve Ouellette, best remembered in Forecaster Country for leading the 2003 Cape Elizabeth Capers to the Class B crown. "They got that clean shot away and it was a great shot. They were able to finish it. You’re dead tired and you’ve got guys playing on adrenaline at that point. It comes down to who gets that shot. It’s a game of inches and in that case the puck was just below the edge.

“It was a great hockey game. We have nothing to be ashamed of. Our players stepped up these last 12, 13 days and really accomplished a lot, so we’re very proud.”

Primed to repeat

Falmouth graduates five seniors: Boehm, Clement, Jordan, Pauls and Nathaniel Wolf and their impact won't be forgotten.

"It's difficult to put into words how important these seniors are, not just to this team but dating back to the beginning of my time," Barton said. "They're mature, they're classy, they're great sportsmen and they're hard workers. They're passionate about the game. I'm passionate about the game too, so it's been a very enjoyable time."

While the seniors will be missed, the Yachtsmen return a ton of talent, including several kids who have played key roles in not one, but two championship runs.

Falmouth will be wearing the bulls-eye next winter, but will be ready for the challenge.

"I'm ready for one more," said Nordstrom. "We're losing Andre, Tyler, Dane and Brandon, but I think we can start from scratch again. We did it this year. Why not?"

"I have a good feeling we'll be back here next year too," Grade said. "Compared to the rest of the teams, we have the most juniors in the state."

"Every year is different and that's a long way away," Barton added. "We do have a lot of skilled young players. We have more coming in. We'll have to do an assessment at the beginning of the season, see what we have and go from there."

Sun Journal staff writer Kalle Oakes contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth freshman Robert Armitage keeps his eye on the falling puck as he takes a faceoff.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth senior captain Andre Clement shows his puck-handling skills.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth senior Tyler Jordan fires over St. Dom's senior Tyler Sirois.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth junior Hunter Low winds up for a shot. Low registered the biggest assist of his life in overtime, when he set up classmate Jake Grade for the winner.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth junior Isac Nordstrom gets a step on a defender. Nordstrom tied the game, 1-1, with a second period goal.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth junior captain Brandon Peters sends a shot on net.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth junior Jake Grade winds up and buries a shot which ties the game, 2-2, in the second period. Grade would later score an even more seismic goal.

Photo: Michael Strout

Falmouth's student section was colorful, loud and willed the Yachtsmen to the finish line.

Photo: Michael Strout

A split second after the winning goal was scored, Falmouth senior goalie Dane Pauls throws his stick in the air as the celebration begins.

Photo: Michael Strout

A photo op that never gets old. Falmouth, with its shiny new hardware, mugs for the camera following the postgame ceremonies.