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PORTLAND—Two boys’ hockey teams hoping to improve their playoff standing did battle Thursday afternoon at William B. Troubh Ice Arena.
Portland/Deering appeared in control most of the way, but despite going on top, 2-0, behind early goals from sophomore Brent Rickett and junior Phil McCallum, couldn’t put away visiting South Portland.
The Red Riots made it 2-1 late in the second period when freshman Aidan Schifano tickled the twine.
Then, in the third period, South Portland senior standout Andrew Whipple hit the post, epitomizing the Red Riots’ frustration on a 5-on-3 power play, and Portland/Deering managed to put it away, getting late power play goals from sophomore Dominic Tocci and Mason Martell to prevail, 4-1.
Portland/Deering improved to 6-8 and dropped South Portland to 7-5 in the process.
“We got the ‘W,’ that was really important,” said Portland/Deering coach Chad Hart. “The second period was tough for us, but luckily, our guys showed mental toughness in the third and fought back. It was nice to see us battle back.”
Both teams made the playoffs a year ago and expected to be in the mix again this winter.
Portland/Deering started with a 5-2 loss to visiting Biddeford. After a 5-3 win at Thornton Academy, two games with two-time defending Class A champion Falmouth followed, resulting in losses of 11-0 at home and 12-0 at Falmouth. After an 8-2 win at Westbrook, Portland/Deering lost at home to Scarborough (4-0), but beat visiting Windham (5-1) to end the 2014 portion of the schedule. After a 7-0 home loss to Cheverus to start 2015, Portland/Deering enjoyed its biggest win, 4-3, at Scarborough, in overtime. Home losses to Cape Elizabeth (5-2) and Kennebunk (10-1) followed. After getting back in the win column with a 4-2 home win over Mt. Ararat/Lisbon, Portland/Deering lost at Lawrence/Skowhegan Saturday, 7-0.
South Portland began with a 2-1 overtime win at Westbrook. After an 8-1 home loss to Cheverus, the Red Riots beat host Bonny Eagle, 5-3. Home losses to York (8-5) and Mt. Ararat/Lisbon (2-0) were followed by shutout home wins over Bonny Eagle (1-0) and Lake Region (2-0). Following a 5-2 loss at Brunswick, South Portland handled visiting Westbrook (7-1), won in overtime at Mt. Ararat/Lisbon (5-4) and prevailed at Marshwood/Traip (2-1). Games at Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills and Windham were then postponed by snow.
Last year, Portland/Deering won at South Portland, 7-1.
Wednesday, the Red Riots hoped to beat Portland/Deering for the first time since Dec. 20, 2011 (5-1), but instead, Portland/Deering made it five in a row in the series.
Portland/Deering came out hot, but Rickett shot high on a breakaway and South Portland sophomore goalie Joe Grant made a blocker save on a blast from freshman Joe Pichette.
With 6:10 to play in the first period, the hosts took a 1-0 lead, when McCallum passed to senior Curran Clere, who got the puck to Rickett, who finished on the backhand.
“I was able to slap it in there,” Rickett said. “It was a backhand goal.”
After Grant denied McCallum and Clere, Portland/Deering took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission.
Portland/Deering doubled its lead early in the second period on the power play, as Clere set up McCallum for a goal.
South Portland cut its deficit in half with 3:30 to play in the second, as Schifano struck, from sophomore James Ellis.
The Red Riots almost drew even 30 seconds later when senior Chris Mitchell broke in alone, but Portland/Deering junior goalie Alex Girsch made the save.
With 1:55 left in the second, junior Tyler Goldberg attempted to tie the score, but his wrister was denied by Girsch.
South Portland would have ample opportunity to draw even in the third period, but couldn’t do so and eventually Portland/Deering pulled away.
After a Whipple shot was saved by Girsch, the Red Riots went on a 5-on-3 power play and had some great looks.
First, senior Kyle Halvorsen managed a blast which Girsch stopped with his glove.
The puck then came to Whipple and he beat Girsch, but the puck hit the post and bounded out of harm’s way.
Halvorsen had another shot saved by Girsch and Whipple had a shot deflected wide. Whipple then had another look, which Girsch stopped.
South Portland went on the power play again, but after being set up by Whipple, freshman Max Winson had a shot saved.
“They were shading a guy up toward Whipple and that left Chris Mitchell open,’ Red Riots coach Joe Robinson said. “On a 5-on-3, I knew they weren’t going to leave Whipple wide open, so I said, ‘Get everything to the net.’ We needed to keep it down.”
With 4:04 to go, after going on the power play, Tocci scored on a rebound on the power play (freshman Camren King and sophomore Dylan Wike were credited with assists) and the hosts had a little breathing room.
After another Red Riots’ penalty, sophomore Mason Martell iced the victory with a power play tally (Tocci was given an assist) and Portland/Deering went on to a 4-1 victory.
“It was good to see balance on offense,” Hart said. “We’ve changed up our lines a little bit. The guys played well and shared the puck. It’s been really tough. We’ve had a game moved and practices canceled. We get out of rhythm you try to get with practices.”
Portland/Deering had a 32-20 shots advantage. Grant made 28 saves, while Girsch stopped 19 shots.
“Girsch has been great,” Rickett said. “He’s kept his head in the game. He never gets down for a second. It’s good to have him.”
South Portland had its chances, but couldn’t capitalize.
“I’d say of the 45 minutes, 35 or more, I thought we played really well,” Robinson said. “We can’t give teams like that too many power play opportunities because they’ll capitalize. I thought we took stupid penalties at the end and it cost us. It was frustrating. We were there for awhile, then the last two minutes, it fell apart. That bummed me out. The score wasn’t indicative. We haven’t played (since Jan. 17), but we were flying.”
South Portland (sixth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings at press time) is back in action Saturday at Noble/Wells. Monday, it has a makeup game at Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills. The Red Riots then host Marshwood and Windham, play a makeup game at Windham, then close at home versus Noble/Wells Feb. 19.
“(Noble’s) a huge game for us,” Robinson said. “If we bring what we brought tonight, we’ll be alright Saturday. It’s going to be interesting. It’s an intense next few weeks, that’s for sure.”
Portland/Deering (eighth in Western A) hosts Brunswick Monday and Thornton Academy three days later. Portland/Deering then closes with games at Cheverus and Biddeford.
“We definitely have talent on our team,” Rickett said. “We’re working on chemistry now, seeing who works best with who. We need a few more ‘Ws,’ that would help us out. We don’t care who we play. We just want to get in the playoffs and have a chance.”
“Our realistic goal is to keep our focus and have confidence and mental toughness,” Hart said. “We want to take care of business each game. If we can stay focused, we’ll be successful and get a decent spot in the playoffs. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Portland/Deering senior Ryan Ruhlin plays the puck as South Portland senior Will McMullin defends.
South Portland freshman Caleb Rowland stumbles as junior Tyler Goldberg looks on.
Portland/Deering sophomore Brent Rickett fires a shot at South Portland sophomore goalie Joe Grant.
Portland/Deering senior Ryan Ruhlin pins South Portland senior Chris Mitchell against the boards.
South Portland sophomore goalie Joe Grant lunges to make a save.
Portland/Deering junior goalie Alex Girsch makes a stop.
Portland/Deering celebrates one of its four goals during Thursday’s 4-1 home win over South Portland.
Joe Carpine/365digitalphotography.com photos
More photos below.