Rarefied air…Gagne wins 700th as Scarborough downs Portland/Deering

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Scarborough coach Norm Gagne shouts out instructions during the Red Storm’s 6-1 win at Portland/Deering Saturday night. Gagne won the 700th game of his illustrious, four-decade-plus career.

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—The names, faces and hairstyles have come and gone, but for more than four decades, Norm Gagne’s hockey teams have had one thing in common.

Triumph.

Saturday evening at Troubh Ice Arena, Gagne, whose coaching career predates that particular venue, as well as the defending Class A state champion Scarborough program he currently coaches, earned the 700th victory of his illustrious career and there’s no end in sight.

The Red Storm took an undefeated record into Saturday’s contest, but for 15 minutes, were stymied by host Portland/Deering, which was undermanned, yet gave its all for 45 minutes.

Early in the second period, Scarborough’s offense sprung to life, scoring three times in less than three minutes, as freshman Mason Parks, senior Matt Caron and junior Justin Perry all tickled the twine, but late in the period, Portland/Deering got on the board when Walter Lewandowski scored his first career goal.

With the game in the balance entering the third period, the Red Storm ended all doubt, scoring three more goals in quick succession, as senior Cam Nigro banged home a rebound, senior Jack Callahan finished a long feed and Caron delivered the exclamation point with a breathtaking individual goal.

Scarborough controlled play from there and put the finishing touches on a 6-1 victory.

The Red Storm got goals from five different players, improved to 12-0-1 and dropped Portland/Deering to 4-10 in the process.

“It’s wild to imagine,” Gagne said, of his milestone. “I never thought I’d come this far or coach this long. What gives me the energy and enthusiasm is my coaching spirit. My passion for the game. I still get fired up.”

Living legend

Gagne’s hockey roots go so far back that he played goalie at Edward Little and didn’t wear a mask his first year.

Gagne started coaching hockey in Gardiner in 1974 and in 13 years with the Tigers, he won three state titles. Gagne’s next stop was Waterville, where he won three championships in 18 seasons, with the last coming in 2001. After spending a year at Gorham, he took Lewiston to the state final in three straight seasons, but lost each time. After assisting Jay Mazur for a year, the Scarborough head coaching job opened in 2010 and Gagne took over. He guided the Red Storm to their first Class A championship last winter and has the program atop the standings again this season.

Scarborough began its title defense with a 3-1 win at St. Dom’s in a state game rematch. After blanking visiting Cheverus (5-0), the Red Storm edged visiting Biddeford in overtime (3-2), downed visiting Edward Little (4-1), survived host Thornton Academy in overtime (6-5), then won at Kennebunk (7-0) and at home over Noble/Wells (4-1) and Gorham (4-1) and at Falmouth (2-1). The Red Storm’s lone blemish came with a 2-2 tie at Cheverus, but they bounced back to beat host Biddeford (3-2) and visiting Thornton Academy (3-0).

Portland/Deering started with a 7-1 win at Leavitt, but losses to visiting Lewiston (13-0), host Biddeford (7-0), host Noble/Wells (6-5 in overtime), visiting St. Dom’s (8-2), host Falmouth (7-2) and visiting Bangor (6-3) followed. After getting back in the win column, 4-1, over visiting Lawrence, and 3-0, at South Portland/Waynflete/Freeport, Portland/Deering dropped a 5-3 decision at Thornton Academy, let a 6-2 third period lead slip away in an agonizing 7-6 overtime loss to Cheverus in the “City Cup,” then fell at Cony, 2-1, before getting back on track Thursday with a 3-2 win over Cheverus.

Saturday, Portland/Deering, playing shorthanded, looked to beat the Red Storm for the second year in a row (last year featured a 4-3 upset victory in overtime), but Scarborough  prevailed and what a special, landmark victory it was.

The Red Storm couldn’t generate many chances in the first period, but just missed scoring twice, as freshman Anthony Burnham hit the post and a Caron shot bounced off the glove of Portland/Deering goalie Sam Segal and rolled toward the goal, only to veer at the last split second just outside the post.

Scarborough finally broke through in the second period.

The Red Storm started the period on the power play due to a too many men on the ice penalty on Portland/Deering and it wasn’t long until they went on top to stay.

With 13:34 to go in the second, a Parks blast beat Segal (Nigro got an assist) and Scarborough was up, 1-0.

Just 79 seconds later, Caron scored his first goal (Callahan and junior Skylar Pettingill got assists) and with 10:41 to play in the period, Perry scored (with senior Sean McDonald and Nigro getting assists) to cap a three goals in 2:53 span.

But just when it looked like Scarborough would run away and hide, Portland/Deering got on the board on the power play, as Joe Pichette set up Lewandowski for a shot which eluded Red Storm sophomore goalie Brandon Wasser (Mason Martell also was credited with an assist), cutting the deficit to 3-1.

Entering the third period, Scarborough looked to end all competitive doubt and was quickly able to do so.

With 12:24 remaining, Nigro scored on a rebound of a Smith shot to restore a three-goal lead.

Ninety-one seconds later, McDonald fed a long pass up the ice to Callahan behind the defense and Callahan beat Alex Girsch (who replaced Segal after Scarborough’s third goal) to make it 5-1.

Then, in the play of the night, with 8:45 to go, Caron weaved through a pair of defenders and as he was falling to the ice, he managed to unleash a shot which beat Girsch to make it 6-1.

“I made a move around a defender and got tripped a little bit, but I put it on net and it went far side around the goalie,” Caron said. “It was one of my better ones. We stuck to what the coaches said and got good shots in good areas and we buried them. We’re a great team. A lot of people have stepped up.”

“We had to start the game with seven forwards and four defensemen,” Portland/Deering coach Jeff Beaney said. “I brought some kids up from JV. When you play the defending state champions, they grind on you. You can see by our results, we take a step up and a step back.”

Scarborough slammed the door from there and at 7:54 p.m. on January 30, 2016, more than 41 years after victory number one, Gagne was one of two high school hockey coaches in the United States of America to register a 700th win.

“Before the game, I told (the guys) I believed we’ve played really well physically, but mentally, I believed we needed to be tougher,” Gagne said. “We took a step forward in the second and third. When we make adjustments, they pick up it. As a coach, you can make adjustments and watch the kids execute and that’s a great feeling. Our stretch goals, Jack Callahan and Matty’s, we’ve worked on in practice and today, we took it to the game. (Portland/Deering) tried to trap us in the neutral zone and we struggled the first three, four minutes. We had to work the weak side and use our center and the game opened up. We moved the puck well.”

After the game, Gagne was congratulated by players past and present (a player from his first Gardiner was among those on hand) and he reflected on his journey.

“I’m at over 1,000 games now,” said Gagne, who, by his count, has lost 292 times and tied 27 others. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be second in the country (to Rhode Island’s Bill Belisle, who has over 900 victories). “The constant is being able to find the kids I know have what I call the ‘inner game’ and the will to win. In the past, I’ve had kids who struggled in the classroom and I had to make them show me they could pass. I’ve had kids from the 80s and 90s tell me I was a key guy who kept them in school. Last year, I had a wrestler, Brian Garber, come up. He was jacked. He wasn’t a great skater, but he came out and played a great role for us. He didn’t get a lot of shifts, but he did it with heart and he played a state championship team and played in a state championship game. The kids enjoy seeing that from their teammates. I teach more than hockey. It’s a tool to teach life skills.”

Praise for Gagne flowed after the contest.

“I can’t even imagine when he first started and I can’t imagine getting to 100 wins,” Caron said. “Getting to 700 seems like such a big number. He’s taught us to take it one game at a time. Each game, he has a different game plan and we stick to that. He gives hands down the best speeches we’ve heard and that gets us going.”

“It’s 700 wins, but you also count so many practices a season and you count all the players he’s positively affected,” Beaney said. “I’ve recruited a lot of his players (at the University of Southern Maine) and they were able to come in and compete right away.”

Gagne wouldn’t commit to taking a run at 800 victories, but don’t expect to see him ride off into the sunset any time soon.

“I’ll take one year at a time,” Gagne said. “I’m grooming (assistant) Jake (Brown).”

Playoff bound

Portland/Deering (sixth in the Class A South Heal Points standings) has four games left and likely needs to win at least one to make the playoffs. After hosting Falmouth next Saturday, games at Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth and a home tilt versus Thornton Academy close it out.

“We’re going to be shorthanded again against Falmouth next week,” Beaney said. “I think we learned a lot tonight. We’ll have a good week of practice. We should have the full team the last three games against Yarmouth, Cape and Thornton.”

Scarborough (first in the Heals) is at Cape Elizabeth Thursday, travels to Lewiston Saturday, hosts Lewiston in a makeup game two days later, then finishes at home against St. Dom’s and Falmouth.

“It won’t get any easier,” Caron said. “We have to keep improving.”

“We’ve overcome a lot of adversity this year,” Gagne said. “We’ve had games where we had to come back. We have to take one game a time. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We don’t want to become complacent. We have to respect each opponent and come out and work hard. We know everyone is out to knock us off. We have to make sure they don’t.”

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

Scarborough freshman Anthony Burnham fires a shot.

Scarborough senior Matt Caron sends a shot on goal.

Scarborough junior Skylar Pettingill handles the puck.

Scarborough junior Justin Perry shoots and scores.

Portland/Deering goalie Alex Girsch can’t handle the blast of Scarborough senior Matt Caron.

Scarborough celebrates one of its six goals Saturday.

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