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LEWISTON—For nearly a dozen years, Scarborough’s boys’ hockey team knocked at the regional championship door only to be rebuffed every time.
Tuesday evening, the Red Storm kicked it in.
Facing Cheverus in the Western Class A Final at the Colisee, Scarborough, which lost in that round in each of the past two seasons, grabbed a 2-0 first period lead, thanks to two goals from junior Matt Caron.
When junior Colin Hayward made it 3-0 in the second period, the Red Storm were on the verge of pulling away, but seconds after Stags senior goalie Kyle Severance kept his team alive with timely saves, Cheverus made things interesting, as senior captain James Hannigan got the Stags off the schneid.
After senior captain James Kane pulled Cheverus within 3-2 after two periods, the Stags began the third period on the power play, but never could garner the equalizer.
After Cheverus had a game-tying tally waved off due to the net being off its moorings with 4:56 remaining, it had one final chance to draw even on the power play, but instead, Scarborough ensured it wouldn’t suffer another agonizing defeat, as empty net tallies from senior captain Sean McGovern and junior captain Cam Nigro produced a 5-2 victory.
Four different players scored, senior goalie Ben Bragg made 25 saves and the Red Storm improved to 13-5-3, ended Cheverus’ season at 13-6-2 and advanced to battle St. Dom’s (17-2-1) in the Class A state final Saturday at 6 p.m., back at the Colisee.
“I told them at last year’s banquet that we were ‘thisclose” to breaking the door down and I told them tonight this was the night we were breaking it down,” said Scarborough’s legendary coach, Norm Gagne. “As young as we are, we had to believe and trust in each other. That’s what has brought us this far.”
Cheverus returned to prominence this winter, starting the season 6-0-1. The Stags lost to Biddeford twice, Bangor, Falmouth and St. Dom’s once and tied Lawrence/Skowhegan and Scarborough, but earned the No. 2 seed in Western A with an 11-5-2 mark.
Cheverus had no trouble with No. 7 Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills in the quarterfinals, romping, 12-1, then avenged last year’s playoff ouster with a 6-1 victory over Noble/Wells in Saturday’s semifinals.
Scarborough faced its share of question marks entering the season. After losing to Falmouth in each of the past two regional finals, there were no guarantees the Red Storm would get back, but after starting 4-3, Scarborough closed with a 6-2-3 run and wound up fourth in the region.
The Red Storm had to go to overtime to survive fifth-ranked Biddeford in the quarterfinals, 3-2, then came from behind to deliver some payback to two-time defending state champion Falmouth in Saturday’s semifinals, 5-4.
“I’ve been on the team since freshman year and the last three years, we were knocked out by (Falmouth),” Bragg said. “We didn’t need much motivation.”
During the regular season, a late goal from Cheverus’ Quintin Farr forced a 1-1 tie at Scarborough Feb. 7 and 12 days later, the host Stags eked out a 1-0 win on junior Jesse Cyr-Brophy’s second period tally.
The teams had met four previous times in the playoffs, with the Red Storm winning three.
The first encounter came in the 1995 Western B Finals, a 3-0 Scarborough win. The then-Redskins beat Cheverus again the following season, 5-4, in the semifinals. In the 2006 Western A Final, the most memorable playoff encounter between the schools, Scarborough tied the score, 2-2, when Ben Talbot scored with five seconds left in regulation, but the Stags prevailed, 3-2, on Michael Antoniou’s goal 45 seconds into the second overtime. Two years ago, the Red Storm beat Cheverus in the semifinals, 4-2.
Tuesday, Scarborough proved to be the better team for most of the night and with the game on the line, made the plays to advance.
Just two minutes in, a penalty to Hannigan gave the Red Storm the first good chance and after a shot by sophomore Eric Murray was denied by Severance, Caron hit the post and McGovern sent a shot across the goal mouth, Caron got to a the rebound of a McGovern shot and steered it past Severance with 10:59 to go in the first period, just before the penalty expired, for a 1-0 lead.
“We were so hyped about beating (Falmouth), but we had to come out focused for this game,” Caron said. “Sean put it on net. Coach told us to get to the net. I was just there for the rebound.”
“We’ve worked on keeping our composure on the power play and taking what they gave us,” Gagne said. “Special teams are big in the playoffs.”
The Stags then went on the power play, but Bragg denied Hannigan on the backhand and Kane couldn’t get his stick on a rebound.
A penalty on Cheverus momentarily set up the teams up 4-on-4 and after Scarborough went back on the man-advantage, Caron struck again, taking a feed from McGovern and beating Severance top shelf for a 2-0 advantage. Sophomore Cameron Smith was also given an assist.
“I came out in the high slot and Sean gave me a good pass and I just threw it on net,” Caron said. “I think the goalie was screened and didn’t see it.”
“That start was very important,” said McGovern. “If we didn’t have that start, the game wouldn’t have ended the way it did.”
After Bragg stopped a bid by Stags senior captain Keegan Thomas in the final minute, Scarborough, despite being outshot, 9-8, took a 2-0 lead to the first intermission.
“Scarborough got us on our heels in that first period,” Cheverus coach Dan Lucas said. “We weren’t skating like Cheverus. They came out with a good game plan and got a jump on us.”
When Caron went to the penalty box for tripping 10 seconds into the second period, the Stags had a great chance to get back in the contest, but after Hannigan was stopped after a rush, the Red Storm dodged the bullet.
With 12:20 to go in the period, Severance robbed Caron, but Scarborough kept play alive and Hayward finished for a 3-0 lead. Caron and Nigro were credited with assists.
After a penalty to Hannigan, the Red Storm looked to put it away, but Caron twice shot wide, had another shot saved by Severance and Severance robbed a backhanded bid from Nigro in front.
Those saves loomed enormous when Hannigan skated the other way and scored unassisted with 6:06 to go in the second to give Cheverus momentum.
After Severance denied Caron again, Kane skated around the goal and bounced a shot off a defenseman and past Bragg with 3:34 remaining and just like that, the Stags only trailed by one, 3-2.
Cheverus pushed for the equalizer, but junior Sean McDonald broke up the rush of Thomas, Bragg robbed junior Luke Trickey in front and as time wound down, on the power play, Bragg robbed O’Leary with his pad to keep the score 3-2.
“They were coming at us,” Bragg said. “I knew we just had to play strong and I had to keep my nerves to the side and play my best.”
There wasn’t much separation between the teams in the first two periods, as shots were even, 17-17.
The Stags had 79 seconds of power play to start the third period, but couldn’t take advantage of it, failing to register a shot.
Eventually, Cheverus would generate chances, but Bragg wouldn’t buckle.
With 10:31 to play, senior Alex Libby had a shot, but Bragg turned it aside.
A little over a minute later, after a nice move, Hannigan shot wide.
With 8:38 to go, senior Jean-Claude Lemieux was robbed by Bragg in front.
With 5:46 left, Thomas’ shot was saved. The Stags kept the pressure on and the puck came to junior Chris Vallee, but he shot wide.
Then, with 4:56 showing, Trickey set up Vallee for the tying goal, but the net had come loose before the shot and after the officials went to the videotape to get a second look, the call stood.
“I said to my assistant coach, ‘It’s no goal,'” Gagne said. “The cage was off its mooring. it was icing anyway.”
“We thought from the bench that the net was off,” Lucas said. “I think they wanted to use that video to confirm it. They made the right call and we had no problem with it.”
Cheverus kept coming, but Hannigan, Libby and Vallee were all denied.
Then, with 2:08 remaining, Scarborough took a penalty and as the Stags went on the power play, Lucas called timeout to set up what he hoped would be the tying goal.
“I told them to get the puck in deep, move it and get bodies in front of the net and try to make it happen, but it didn’t,” Lucas said.
There would be more goals to come, but none for Cheverus.
The Stags didn’t even get a shot on the power play and the Red Storm almost put the win on ice when Caron skated in alone on Severance, but he was robbed with 1:15 to go.
After Cheverus controlled the puck, Lucas pulled his goalie, but it didn’t result in offensive pressure.
Instead, McGovern got the puck, broke free and buried a short-handed empty netter to make it 4-2 with 51.7 seconds to play.
“It was very nervewracking and the power play didn’t help, but we did it,” McGovern said. “I skated down the ice and threw it on net and good things happened.”
“I had visions of the Biddeford game, but our penalty killers, Nigro, Sean and Matty Caron, were fresh,” Gagne said. “We were going to finish with them no matter what. Sean is our vocal man in the locker room and he gets us going. I’m pleased with his leadership.”
If there was any remaining doubt, Scarborough got one more empty net goal when Nigro did the honors with 16.3 seconds left.
The Red Storm then ran down the clock and at 7:44 p.m., after a dozen years in Class A, had a regional title.
“It’s fantastic,” Caron said. “The last two years, we thought we had the team to win. This year, going in, we thought we’d be middle of the pack. We had the toughest road to the Western Maine title and I think we deserved it.”
“It’s an awesome feeling,” McGovern said. “We’ve gotten so close the last three years. What we’ve accomplished this year is awesome. I love these guys. We kept playing our game. We’re fast. We have a lot of skill. We work hard.”
“We just battled,” Bragg said. “We knew we weren’t the most skilled team and we battled adversity and injuries, but we’ve performed. I love playing here. There’s nothing like it. I already had my hands up (in celebration) with three seconds left. It was a great feeling. Long overdue.”
“What we did in that first period was just fantastic, but I think we took our foot off the gas in the second, so I told them we needed the same attitude in the third period that we had in the first and we played a lot better,” Gagne added. “Cheverus had some chances, but we fought. I wasn’t expecting this. We’re playing with house money right now. I can’t say enough about how these kids battle. Under adversity, they’ve learned to fight back.”
Scarborough was outshot, 27-22, but Bragg’s 25 saves were the difference.
“We’d been injury-prone all season,” Caron said. “I got knocked out at the beginning of the season with a collarbone injury, but Bragg’s kept us in every game. He makes incredible saves.”
“Ben came up big when he needed to and he’s done that for us all year,” Gagne said. “He’s been rock-solid. He’s got to be the best goalie in the state right now. We wouldn’t be here right now without him.”
Cheverus got 17 saves from Severance, but couldn’t convert on the power play.
“We started to get it going a little bit, but it was too little, too late,” Lucas said. “We felt we had a great opportunity to tie the game up with that power play to start the third, but it didn’t go as planned.”
While the Stags were disappointed by falling short, they have returned to their accustomed spot among the state’s elite programs and will be back in this game sooner rather than later.
“I’m proud of the hockey team,” Lucas said. “It’s been in awhile since we’ve played in this atmosphere. It took a lot of hard work. Some of the guys spent four years getting us here for the first time since 2006 and other guys have their opportunity to get us back here.”
Cheverus has a lot of talent returning and should make a serious run at a championship in 2015-16.
“There’s always that carrot hanging out there,” Lucas said. “The stars have to align. We’re getting close. The effort’s there.”
Scarborough’s first Class A championship (and its second at any level, 1995 Class B) won’t come easily.
The Red Storm lost, 2-1, at St. Dom’s back on Dec. 10. Scarborough lost its two prior playoff meetings against the Saints: 8-1 in the 2005 semifinals and 7-4 in the 2009 quarterfinals.
This time around, the Red Storm like their chances.
“We’re very happy right now, but the best part is we get another game,” said McGovern. “It will be another tough battle. We’ll be ready for it.”
“We have to come ready to play and stick to the game plan,” said Bragg. “Hopefully, we can pull out one more win. That’s all we need.”
“We’ve got one more,” Gagne added. “St. Dom’s is probably the favorite.”
That may be, but it wouldn’t be smart to write Scarborough off.
Scarborough sophomore Cameron Smith brings the puck into the offensive zone as Cheverus senior Matt O’Leary defends.
Scarborough junior captain Matt Caron, who scored twice, tries to elude Cheverus freshman defender Michael Hatch.
Scarborough junior Colin Hayward tries to catch up with Cheverus junior Jesse Cyr-Brophy.
Cheverus senior captain James Kane chases after a loose puck.
Scarborough sophomore Thomas Marshall prevents Cheverus senior Matt O’Leary from getting to the puck.
Scarborough junior Sean McDonald tries to knock the puck away from Cheverus senior James Kane.
Scarborough senior captain Sean McGovern plays the puck as Cheverus senior Matt O’Leary gives chase.
Scarborough senior captain Kevin Smith and Cheverus senior captain James Hannigan do battle along the boards.
Stags senior James Kane celebrates a second period goal. Cheverus scored twice in that period to get back in the contest.
Scarborough celebrates one of its five goals.
Scarborough’s boys’ hockey team celebrates after winning its first Western Class A title, 5-2, over Cheverus Tuesday night. The Red Storm will meet St. Dom’s in the state final Saturday evening.
Derek Carpine photos.
More photos below.