Rally for the ages sends Portland/Deering to semifinals

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The Portland/Deering boys’ hockey team celebrates Wednesday night’s 6-5 Class A South quarterfinal win over Massabesic/Old Orchard Beach/Bonny Eagle after senior Dom Tocci’s goal as time expires. Portland/Deering will face top-ranked Falmouth in the semifinals Saturday.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—An evening years in the making produced a game that no one who witnessed it will ever forget.

Wednesday evening at Troubh Ice Arena, the Portland/Deering boys’ hockey team hosted a playoff game for the first time since 2009 and was the home team for a quarterfinal for the first time in a decade and was it ever worth the wait.

Portland/Deering, the No. 4 seed in Class A South, knew it was going to have its hands full against No. 5 Massabesic/Old Orchard Beach/Bonny Eagle, a team known as the “MOB,” because it lost and tied the two regular season meetings, and sure enough, it took every single second to determine a winner in a thrilling, back-and-forth affair.

The game began calmly enough, as Portland/Deering went up, 1-0, midway through the first period on a goal from freshman Miki Silva.

After MOB pulled even at the 9:13 mark of the first period when sophomore Brandon Caron scored, Portland/Deering went back on top two minutes later when sophomore Donnie Tocci scored and the hosts took a 2-1 lead to the first intermission.

MOB pulled even early in the second period behind a goal from junior Tyler Ouellette and the game remained 2-2 entering what proved to be a frenetic, nearly impossible to believe third period.

Just 28 seconds in, Portland/Deering went back on top on a goal from senior Mason Martell, but MOB immediately tied the score thanks to a goal from senior Tanner McClure.

Then, after a pair of Portland/Deering penalties, MOB struck on a 5-on-3 opportunity, as senior Travis Marsh finished with 8:10 to play.

MOB then seemingly put the game away with 7:02 to play, as Marsh scored again on a rebound, but Portland/Deering saved its best for last.

And I do mean last.

With 4:26 to play, Donnie Tocci scored on a rebound to give his team hope, but with just over a minute to play, the deficit was still a goal.

Then, after Portland/Deering coach Jeff Beaney pulled senior goalie Sam Segal for an extra attacker, junior Cam King rifled a shot into the net with 1:05 remaining to tie the contest, 5-5.

As time wound down, all on hand thought the game was going to overtime, but Portland/Deering kept fighting and with 0.1 seconds remaining, senior Dom Tocci somehow got the puck past MOB senior goalie Kyle McKay to win it, producing arguably the finest moment in program history in the process, as Portland/Deering earned its first playoff win in nine seasons.

Portland/Deering improved to 11-7-1, ended MOB’s fine season at 11-6-2 and advanced to meet top-ranked Falmouth (14-3-1) in the Class A South semifinals Saturday evening at a time to be announced at the Colisee in Lewiston.

“It’s huge,” said Portland/Deering coach Jeff Beaney. “I’ve coached 31 years and I’ve never seen a comeback like this. It says a lot about our desire and our will. The seniors’ goal from the start of the year was to have a home playoff game. We’re not the same Bulldogs team anymore. A lot of the messages we’ve worked on came through tonight.” 

First time, long time

Portland/Deering has been competitive nearly every year, but entering play Wednesday, the last time the program had reached the semifinals was 2003.

Wednesday’s contest marked Portland/Deering’s first home quarterfinal since 2007 (a 2-1 overtime loss to Scarborough) and its first home playoff game in any round since a 6-3 preliminary round loss to Kennebunk in 2009.

After missing the playoffs last winter with a 5-13 mark, Portland/Deering doubled its win total this season and its 10-7-1 mark gave it the No. 4 seed in Class A South and a home playoff game.

“I thought last year we had a better year than our record showed,” Dom Tocci said. “Coach Beaney has put a lot into the system and made us better players. We thought we could make something happen this year. The team’s bought in.” 

“Last year, we just wanted to change the culture and build expectations,” Beaney said. “Now, we have confidence.”

MOB lost its first three outings, but turned it around to finish 11-5-2 and fifth in the region.

The teams played two close games in the regular season, as MOB won at home, 8-6, and the second contest resulted in a 3-3 tie in Portland.

The teams had no playoff history.

Wednesday, it’s safe to say they made some.

As expected, there wasn’t much separation in this one.

The first good scoring chance came three minutes in, when MOB sophomore Dillon Tozier fired a backhanded shot in close that was denied by Segal.

At the other end, Martell had a shot saved by McKay.

With 9:32 left in the first period, MOB went on the power play, as Donnie Tocci was sent off for tripping, but Segal kept the game scoreless by denying MOB junior Cameron Roy point blank.

Then, at the 7:34 mark, the hosts struck first, as Silva and sophomore Jake Luce played pass back and forth before Silva finished for a 1-0 lead.

MOB drew even after a penalty to Portland/Deering junior Joe Herboldsheimer.

With 5:47 left in the first, Caron’s blast through traffic eluded Segal to make it 1-1.

Undaunted, Portland/Deering came right back and with 3:46 to go in the first, Donnie Tocci fired a blast from up top for the lead.

Late in the period, MOB had three great chances to tie, but a rush by McClure was broken up by Portland/Deering senior defender Peter Barry, Segal stopped a shot by McClure and with 12.6 seconds left, McClure got a clean look and beat Segal, but the shot rang off the crossbar, keeping Portland/Deering on top, 2-1, after 15 minutes.

In the second period, the visitors pulled even.

Portland/Deering had the first chance in the period, but Martell shot just wide.

With 11:11 remaining, MOB tied it up, as Doustou set up Ouellette, making it 2-2.

The rest of the period saw opportunities missed or denied.

After Segal stopped a shot by Caron, Tocci was denied by McKay. Segal robbed sophomore Wyatt Blanchette on a rush ad Segal turned aside a shot from Doustou before a tripping penalty on McClure gave Portland/Deering its first power play opportunity with 3:28 remaining.

Portland/Deering would get its looks, as Martell, King and Donnie Tocci all were denied by McKay.

The game would go to the third period deadlocked, 2-2, where all sorts of zaniness broke loose, culminated by a goal for the ages.

It took all of 28 seconds for Portland/Deering to go back on top, as Martell beat McKay unassisted, but with 13:57 left, McClure scored (from Caron) and the game was tied again, 3-3.

“That team isn’t a great matchup for us,” Beaney said. “McClure is one of the top two players in the state. He has our number.”

After McKay denied Martell and senior Joe Herboldsheimer, Martell was sent to the penalty box for tripping with 8:15 to go and Dom Tocci joined him after shooting the puck into the net after the whistle, garnering an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

MOB immediately pounced, as Marsh scored on the backhand with 8:10 to go for a 4-3 lead.

Martell’s penalty ended, but Tocci’s did not and with 7:02 to play, McClure’s shot was saved by Segal, but Marsh was there for the rebound and a 5-3 advantage.

Portland/Deering fought back and after Dom Tocci was denied, Donnie Tocci struck on a rebound of a Herboldsheimer shot with 4:26 remaining to make it a one-goal game.

After McKay denied game-tying bids off the sticks of Luce, Silva and Dom Tocci, Beaney pulled Segal for an extra attacked with 1:07 to go.

And two seconds later, the game was tied.

Silva won the faceoff to King, who ripped a shot into the goal to make it 5-5 and bring the Portland/Deering side of the building to life.

And the best was yet to come.

As time wound down, Martell fired a shot that resulted in a McKay save and the clock stopping with 5.2 seconds showing.

Portland/Deering then pressed and the few remaining seconds ticked down and just as everyone was waiting for the horn to signify overtime, a roar engulfed the building as the hosts scored.

Only two questions remained.

Who scored and had the goal come before the horn.

It was soon learned that Dom Tocci had done the honors and indeed, the goal had come just in the nick of time to give Portland/Deering a scintillating, unforgettable 6-5 victory.

“We had the faceoff and I was just trying to push the puck forward,” Tocci said. “It trickled out and my brother caught it. A kid blocked it and it came right to me and I just threw it on and hoped. I didn’t know if there was any time left. I don’t think I played that great, but luckily I came through. Sometimes the puck just finds you. I’m not the hero. I think everyone else was.”

“I was thinking about overtime,” said Beaney. “I was in line with the scoreboard. Dom backhanded the puck and when I looked, it said 0.1. Then, everything went white when everyone jumped off the bench.”

Somehow, Portland/Deering had gotten off the deck and produced the most dramatic and impactful comeback in its history.

“At 5-3, I thought we were kind of losing it, but this has been our team all year,” Tocci said. “We came back in our first game. We have a lot of heart. This is the best Portland High team I’ve been on. We all knew it wasn’t over and that we’d fight to until the end. We knew what was at stake. I was in the box and everyone was kind of down. It was the kids on the third and fourth lines, who don’t play much, who told us to keep in it. (Senior) Dylan Wike, who broke his hand a couple games ago, kept us positive.”

“The guys were mad,” Beaney said. “They felt like things went against us on the penalties. The key was getting the one to make it a one-goal game. Massabesic was just trying to run the clock out. We pulled the goalie and that worked out. The first game of the year against Cony, we were down, 4-1, and won in overtime. That set the tone for the season. It’s always nice to have that memory in the bank. We’ve done it before. I’m excited for the seniors. They gave up a lot to keep pushing the team first.”

Portland/Deering had a 30-21 edge in shots. Segal stopped 16 shots, while McKay made 24 saves.

Showdown Saturday

Portland/Deering will take the Colisee ice Saturday for the first time in the playoffs since 2003 and will be a decided underdog against Falmouth. The Yachtsmen won the  lone regular season meeting, 7-2, Feb. 11 at home.

Falmouth won both prior playoff meetings, including a 10-2 romp two years ago in the quarterfinals.

Portland/Deering won’t be given much a chance, but after Wednesday’s win, the sky’s the limit.

“We have to keep playing how we’ve been playing,” said Tocci. “Last time it wasn’t really a 7-2 game. We kept it close early. I’m sure we’ll bring it up there. It’ll be fun.”

“If I was a betting man, I’d put money down on Falmouth, but I’ve told the guys all year long if they get to the Final Four that anything can happen,” Beaney said.

Indeed, look no farther than Wednesday night.

Anything can happen.

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

Portland/Deering senior Dom Tocci, long before he became the hero, takes a shot.

Portland/Deering freshman Miki Silva races up the ice. Silva scored the game’s first goal.

Portland/Deering senior Mason Martell takes a shot.

Portland/Deering sophomore Donnie Tocci splits MOB sophomores Brandon Caron, left, and Wyatt Blanchette.

Portland/Deering junior Sam Shaw handles the puck.

Portland/Deering senior Will Herboldsheimer and MOB freshman Cameron Goodrich battle along the boards.

Portland/Deering junior Cam King fires a shot to tie the game, 5-5, with just over a minute to go.

The Portland/Deering bench erupts after King’s tying goal and the best was yet to come.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.