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Portland/Deering sophomore Dante Tocci races up the ice during Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to defending regional champion Biddeford in the Class A South Final.
Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald photos.
More photos below.
LEWISTON—The underdog had the favorite on the ropes, but couldn’t ultimately continue its fairy tale run.
The Portland/Deering boys’ hockey co-op team, playing on the big stage for the first time in 18 years, gave defending regional champion Biddeford everything it could handle and then some in the teams’ Class A South Final Tuesday evening at the Colisee, but despite holding a second period lead and being tied in the third, it fell just short.
Second-ranked Biddeford struck first, less than two minutes into the game, when senior Colin Petit set up sophomore Nick McSorley for a goal.
No. 5 Portland/Deering then turned it up big-time in the second period, getting a pair of goals from senior Jake Luce, who nearly completed a hat trick moments later, but he couldn’t finish, and late in the period, the Tigers drew even when sophomore Trevor Ouellette scored.
Biddeford then got the go-ahead tally with 8:24 on the play, when McSorley scored for the second time, on the power play, and while Portland/Deering did its best to pull even, it couldn’t do so and the Tigers survived and advanced, 3-2.
Biddeford improved to 15-6, ended Portland/Deering’s season at 10-11 and in the process, advanced to meet St. Dom’s (15-4-1) in the state final Saturday at 6 p.m. in Lewiston.
“There was a lot of excitement here tonight,” said Portland/Deering coach Jeff Beaney. “We talked about going on a journey and we had tremendous kids. They should be proud. They accomplished something that hadn’t been done in 18 years. I asked before the game who was born before March, 2001 and three kids raised their hand and they were in diapers (then).”
Portland/Deering proved to be the team that everyone was talking about all season when it was suggested that Class A South was wide-open and that anyone can make a deep playoff run.
After an 8-10 campaign, Portland/Deering wound up fifth in the region, but first upset No. 4 Scarborough, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then Saturday, it stunned top-rated Thornton Academy, 2-1, in the semifinals.
Biddeford, last year’s Class A South champion, wound up second in the region this winter and after a 5-2 quarterfinal round win over Massabesic/ Old Orchard Beach/Bonny Eagle, the Tigers held off No. 3 South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete, 3-1, in Saturday’s semifinal round.
The teams met Jan. 15 in Biddeford, a 4-1 Tigers’ victory.
Biddeford had won both prior playoff meetings, 5-0, in the 1991 Western A quarterfinals and 7-1 in the 2008 Western A quarterfinals.
Tuesday, the Tigers prevailed again, but Portland/Deering didn’t make it easy.
Biddeford got the jump 95 seconds in, as after a turnover, Petit raced in to Becker’s right, then fed the puck across the crease to McSorley, who fired it into the net for a quick 1-0 lead.
Portland/Deering looked to answer when senior Walter Lewandowski launched a shot, but Tigers senior goalie Justin Larnerd made the save.
At 6:41 of the period, Biddeford went on the power play, as Portland/Deering sophomore Max Cheever was sent to the penalty box for tripping, but the Tigers couldn’t take advantage and didn’t even muster a shot.
Late in the period, Portland/Deering senior Donnie Tocci tried twice to even the score, but Larnerd turned aside both shots and Biddeford took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission.
Portland/Deering then quickly tied things up in the second period.
After Larnerd made a glove save to deny freshman Carlos Braceras and robbed Lewandowski in front, Luce got the puck from Braceras, went one-on-one with Larnerd, and beat him to tie the score, 1-1, with 12:28 to go in the second. Cheever was also credited with an assist.
After Becker kept the game tied by making a save on Petit, Braceras got the puck ahead to Luce, who again skated in and one-timed a shot past Larnerd to put Portland/Deering ahead, 2-1.
At 7:21 of the second period, Portland/Deering junior Whit Steele was sent off for goalie interference, but the best scoring opportunity of the ensuing power play went to Luce, who broke in free again after a turnover and had a golden opportunity to complete a natural hat trick and perhaps turn the game completely in Portland/Deering’s favor, but Larnerd made a huge save to keep the deficit at one.
“I say to my team all the time, ‘First team to three wins,'” said Beaney. “It’s a hockey cliche. Their goalie came up big. Jake realized he should have deked him instead of shooting, but he had the hot hand and he had the hot hand all year.”
At that point, Biddeford coach Jason Tremblay used his timeout to calm the Tigers down and it worked, even though they didn’t score on the remainder of their power play.
“They were on the brink of getting a third goal and they way they could lock down defensively, that’s a spot we didn’t want to be in,” Tremblay said. “I told (the guys) to stop panicking. I thought momentum shifted a little bit.”
Biddeford did tie it up, however, with 3:56 left, when Trevor Ouellette got the puck in front from McSorley and beat Becker to make it 2-2. Petit was also credited with an assist.
Portland/Deering controlled the rest of the second period, hoping to retake the lead, but after a Cheever shot trickled behind him, Larnerd swatted it away with his stick at the last instant, Larnerd covered up a loose puck in front seconds later and after stopping a shot by Luce, Larnerd fell on the rebound before stopping one final shot from junior Miki Silva to send the game to the second intermission still deadlocked, 2-2.
Portland/Deering enjoyed a 14-7 shots advantage in the frame and took the momentary lead, but couldn’t hold it.
That set the stage for the fateful third period.
Portland/Deering had looks early, but Larnerd stopped shots by senior Donnie Tocci and Luce.
With 8:57 remaining, the Tigers came so close to the lead, as Petit skated in and steered the puck to Becker’s right and it barely ticked off the post. The play went to video review, but the call stood.
Twelve seconds later, Biddeford went on the power play for the third time, after sophomore Dante Tocci was sent off for cross-checking.
Becker made an initial save on a shot from sophomore Nick Reissfelder, but with 8:24 remaining, Reissfelder set up McSorley on the doorstep and McSorley finished for a 3-2 lead.
“It’s a game of bounces, a game of inches,” Tremblay said. “We talked about getting pucks to the cage. Nick has over 40 goals in 20 games this year. He’s a player. He finds the net. I tip my hat to him. He’s a worker.”
“We didn’t take a great penalty and it was a penalty,” Beaney said. “The refs did well.”
Portland/Deering then went on the power play midway through the third period when Tigers senior Seth Perry was sent off for slashing.
Portland/Deering managed three shots on the man-advantage, but Larnerd saved them all.
With 3:51 left, Steele’s bid for the tying tally was saved by Larnerd.
Forty-five seconds later, Luce tried to tie it up, but his shot was saved as well.
With 1:19 remaining, Beaney called timeout and on the ensuing faceoff in the Biddeford zone, Portland/Deering pulled Becker for an extra attacker.
With 47.6 seconds left, Biddeford took a penalty and Portland/Deering had two extra attackers, but couldn’t convert, as after Cheever swept a potential empty net goal off the line, his long shot got through traffic, only to be saved by Larnerd.
The Tigers ran out the clock from there and celebrated their 3-2 victory.
“These nine, 10 guys just don’t quit,” Tremblay said. “That team across the way didn’t quit either. It was an unbelievable game. They didn’t get a ton of shots, but most of them were outside. They didn’t have a ton of quality chances in the third. It comes down to execution. Bottom line, we executed.”
Portland/Deering enjoyed a 26-19 shots advantage, but went 0-for-3 on the power play. Becker made 15 saves and Cheever had one highlight-reel stop.
“I thought it was two pretty evenly matched teams,” Beaney said. “They’ve been here before and they’re talented. It was hard chasing a lead again. We put in the effort and had some chances.
“We felt all along that any team could get hot. I really thought all year long we were one of the top teams. We had to become more consistent and we did. The emergence of Becker in net at the end of the year really helped out.”
Larnerd made 24 saves for Biddeford, which converted 1-of-4 power plays.
Biddeford moves on to the state final for the second year in a row and will meet a St. Dom’s squad which ended Lewiston’s reign Tuesday, 4-2, in the Class A North Final.
Biddeford fell, 6-0, at St. Dom’s Jan. 5.
The Tigers are seeking their fifth all-time championship, joining the 1977 Class B champions and the 2007, 2008 and 2010 Class A champs.
“Talk about a wild ride,” Tremblay said. “We were 12-6 last year and 12-6 this year, but they couldn’t be more opposite of runs. This run is special.
“It’s one more game. Maybe we’re an underdog, maybe not. It’s wide open and for us, we’ll take it and run with it. I’m proud of my guys. They’ve grinded all year and worked.”
Portland/Deering was only over the .500 mark on two occasions this year, at 2-1 and 4-2, but records proved irrelevant when the playoffs rolled around and Portland/Deering’s run to the regional final will be what’s remembered.
Portland/Deering graduates nine, including Lewandowski, Luce and Donnie Tocci.
“When I took over four years ago, it was about every person on the team’s job leaving it better than they found it,” Beaney said. “This senior class did that.”
Portland/Deering has a lot of talent returning, including a goalie who turned heads as a freshman, as well as several other key contributors, and figures to be in the hunt for the 2019-20 title.
“It’s hard to think about next year, but the game goes on,” Beaney said.
Biddeford senior goalie Justin Larnerd sprawls to make one of his 24 saves.
Portland/Deering junior Whit Steele tries to fight through Biddeford junior Bryce Pray, left, and senior Trenton Ouellette.
Portland/Deering senior Jake Luce celebrates one of his two second period goals.
Biddeford head coach Jason Tremblay, left, hugs assistant Trevor Fleurent at the final horn of the Tigers’ victory.