Scarborough flusters Falmouth, returns to states

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Scarborough’s boys’ hockey team mobs senior goalie Ross LeBlond at the final horn of Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Falmouth in the Class A South Final. LeBlond made 30 saves to help the defending champion Red Storm reach the state final for the second year in a row.

Chris Lambert photos.

Scarborough senior captains Jack Callahan, left, Matt Caron, Cam Nigro and Sean McDonald show off the regional championship plaque following Tuesday’s victory.

More photos below.

LEWISTON—Common preseason wisdom held that goalie Ben Bragg was irreplaceable and Scarborough’s boys’ hockey team wasn’t going to return to the state final.

Wrong and guess again.

Tuesday evening in the Class A South Final at the Colisee, the Red Storm continued their surprisingly strong season by edging their fiercest rival, Falmouth, in an absolute nailbiter.

Thanks in large part to the play of their first-year goalie, senior Ross LeBlond, who left Cape Elizabeth for Scarborough, mirrored Bragg’s excellence in big games and etched his name into Red Storm lore.

It was clear early that goals would be at a premium, as LeBlond held the Yachtsmen scoreless and Falmouth sophomore goalie Spencer Pierce also kept the Red Storm off the board.

Finally, with 2:53 to go in the second period, out of a scrum, Scarborough broke through, as junior Cam Smith finished for a 1-0 lead.

The Red Storm then had to protect that advantage for nearly 18 minutes and did so, thanks to 30 saves from LeBlond and terrific team-wide defensive effort.

Despite ample good looks and 45 minutes of pressure, the Yachtsmen couldn’t tickle the twine and Scarborough went on to a 1-0 victory.

The Red Storm improved to 16-2-3, ended Falmouth’s season at 16-5 and advanced to meet powerhouse Lewiston (16-2-2) in the Class A state final Saturday at 6 p.m. back at the Colisee as they go for a second consecutive title.

“It was a battle,” said Scarborough coach Norm Gagne. “I knew it would be a close game. It always is. Both teams played hard right until the end. We really gritted it out tonight. Our defense won again. I’m really proud of the kids.”

Numbers 1 and 1a

Falmouth and Scarborough have been the creme de la creme of Class A South (formerly Western A) for the past four seasons.

Three years ago, the Yachtsmen upset the Red Storm, 4-3, in the regional final, then won their first state title. In 2014, Falmouth beat Scarborough again, 5-2, in the regional final and captured another championship. Last winter, the Red Storm turned the tables by edging the Yachtsmen in the regional final, then they went on to win a Class A crown for the first time.

Despite several question marks, Falmouth and Scarborough entered the 2015-16 expected to be two of the teams to beat and did even better than anticipated.

The Red Storm got a big jump in the standings when they won in Falmouth, 2-1, back on Jan. 12. That was part of a 13-0-1 start which ensured Scarborough would be the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. The Red Storm went just 0-2-2 down the stretch, however, and closed Feb. 18 with a surprisingly lopsided 5-0 home loss to the Yachtsmen, who wound up second in the region.

“That wasn’t a good indication of Scarborough hockey,” Gagne said. “That was after we got beaten up by Lewiston (two days previously). We had to come right back and play and we were sore.”

Scarborough returned to form for the quarterfinals, blanking No. 8 Massabesic/OOB/Bonny Eagle, 7-0. In Saturday’s semifinals, the Red Storm eliminated No. 4 Cheverus ,4-1.

Falmouth had no trouble with No. 7 South Portland/Waynflete/Freeport, 9-2, in its quarterfinals, then held off upset-minded, third-seed Thornton Academy in Saturday’s semifinals, 3-2.

The teams have quite the playoff history, meeting seven times prior to Tuesday (see sidebar, below).

The first came in the 1994 Western B quarterfinals, a 2-1 double-overtime win for Scarborough. The most recent was last year’s Red Storm 5-4 win in the Western A semifinals.

Tuesday, the rivals battled for the fifth straight year in the postseason and this time, Scarborough was the better team.

Barely.

The first period was pretty even, as Scarborough controlled play early before the Yachtsmen got their offense going.

After Falmouth senior Josh Noyes fired the game’s first shot, a high wrister which LeBlond snared, the Red Storm turned up the heat.

First, senior captain Matt Caron snared the puck and shot, but Pierce made the save. Pierce then turned aside a bid from junior Justin Perry with his pad, then denied both senior captain Sean McDonald and junior Skylar Pettingill,

After Pettingill missed wide, Yachtsmen sophomore Theo Hambre was sent to the penalty box for holding and Scarborough continued to pepper Pierce, as the goalie had to use his glove to deny Caron and after senior captain Cam Nigro and senior Colin Hayward both shot wide, Hayward was denied by Pierce and Pierce twice stopped Pettingill.

The pendulum then swung the other way, as LeBlond denied Falmouth junior captain Chris Camelio and after a turnover, Camelio had a shot blocked and junior Reece Armitage’s promising rebound found a defender’s skate instead of the net.

With 5:57 left in the first, Camelio got the puck on the doorstep, but LeBlond stood tall.

After Red Storm junior Kyle Jacques was denied, Jacques was sent off for elbowing, but the Yachtsmen only managed one shot on the power play, a bid from Hembre which LeBlond saved.

With just 25.5 seconds to go, Caron deked two defenders and skated in alone on Pierce, but Caron couldn’t get much on the shot and Pierce made the save.

On the play, junior Henry Norris took a penalty for Falmouth, giving Scarborough, which held a 10-9 edge in shots in the first 15 minutes, the power play to start the second period.

There, Scarborough dodged a couple bullets, then finally broke the ice.

The Red Storm did nothing with their power play and in fact, the Yachtsmen had two chances to score themselves, but LeBlond came way out of the cage to knock the puck away from a charging junior captain Robbie Armitage, then denied Hembre on a rush.

Falmouth continued to pressure once play returned to 5-on-5, but LeBlond denied Reece Armitage, Norris, Camelio on the rebound and Camelio again.

Scarborough’s first shot of the second period came with 9:47 to go, as Caron collected a loose puck at the blue line, got some room and fired, but Pierce got in front of the shot and deflected it wide.

With 9 minutes to go, Smith, from behind the goal, gave Pettingill a perfect feed, but Pierce made the save. The puck came back to Pettingill, but he shot wide.

The Red Storm went back on the power play with 4:54 left in the second, as sophomore Louis Mainella was sent off for elbowing and while Scarborough didn’t score, it finally found the net a second after the penalty expired.

After Scarborough junior defenseman Eric Murray broke up a Falmouth rush and Robbie Armitage hit the post, the Red Storm got an attack going.

An initial shot from freshman Mason Parks was knocked down by Pierce and with McDonald running interference in front, Pierce tried to collect the puck while falling to the ice, but was unable to do and Smith pounced on it and sent it home for a 1-0 lead with 2:53 remaining in the period.

“We really had a good matchup with our second line, so we spread out more and we took advantage,” Smith said. “Mason shot it from the point and it got through. I went for it and I had a wide open net and it went in.”

“It was just a scrum,” Caron said. “We were the ones to get the right bounce. Cam was in the right place at the right time.”

“Cam Smith played a heck of a game tonight,” Gagne added. “His line with Skylar and Justin was really solid. It was a complete game tonight.”

The Yachtsmen weren’t sure the goal should have been allowed to stand.

“I thought (the puck) was covered (by the goalie),” said Falmouth coach Deron Barton. “I thought the officials lost sight of the puck. It was a play that could have easily happened at the other end. The hockey Gods made a decision and it wasn’t Falmouth this year.”

With 41.3 seconds showing in the second, Smith was sent off for roughing and Falmouth had a chance to answer, but after Camelio was denied by LeBlond, with just 0.1 seconds left, Camelio was called for slashing, wiping out the Yachtsmen’s man advantage.

In the second period, the Red Storm had a 9-8 shots advantage and more importantly, finally broke through.

No one thought the score would remain 1-0 for 15 more minutes, but it did.

Not that the Yachtsmen did have their chances to pull even.

Robbie Armitage had a couple early looks, but LeBlond saved them both.

After Pierce kept it a one-goal game by denying Smith, a second Smith shot deflected wide.

With 9:50 left, Murray broke up a rush by Falmouth sophomore Marcus Cady.

Eighteen seconds later, the Yachtsmen went on the power play, as Scarborough had too many men on the ice, but senior captain Hogan Tracy had a shot blocked and LeBlond denied a blast from sophomore Alex Grade.

After LeBlond smartly pounced on a loose puck after a turnover, he denied a rush from Robbie Armitage and stopped a shot from Noyes with 5:51 remaining.

The Red Storm then had a couple chances, but Nigro shot wide, Pierce turned aside a shot from Jacques and senior captain Jack Callahan shot high.

With 3:34 left, Robbie Armitage had a shot saved and LeBlond turned aside a rebound from Camelio as well.

Seconds later, Reece Armitage attempted a blast from the blue line, but LeBlond saved that as well.

With 1:51 to play, Camelio was denied at the left post and after play stopped, Falmouth took a timeout.

Out of the timeout, Caron almost clinched it for Scarborough, racing in free, but Pierce managed to keep the puck out of the net to keep his team’s hopes alive.

With 36.9 seconds left, after Pierce had been pulled for an extra attacker, Robbie Armitage shot wide.

With 10.1 seconds to go, the Yachtsmen got their final look, but Hembre couldn’t get the puck past LeBlond.

After a faceoff, the Red Storm managed to clear the puck and at 7:47 p.m., after 100 compelling real time minutes, Scarborough was able to mob LeBlond and celebrate its 1-0 victory.

“We knew it would be a battle tonight,” said Caron. “Their top line has been clicking and we put our top line against theirs. We got it done at the end.”

“We got some tough tests and Falmouth really beat us at the end of the season, but we’ve pulled through and tonight, we proved what we can do,” LeBlond said.

“It’s what I thought it would be,” Smith said. “We’re two even teams. We went back and forth all season.”

“It was the game I expected, but I didn’t think it would be as physical as how it started,” Gagne said. “We knew defense was the key. Near the end, they were putting a lot of pressure on us and I didn’t think they were ever going to change their line. We lost (senior defenseman) Colin (Hayward) and the little (Anthony) Burnham kid played a heck of a game for a freshman. We had to use forwards to help us out. Our D zone coverage saved us. When we got running around, LeBlond saved us or one of the defensemen iced the puck. That’s what you have to do in tournament play.”

LeBlond wrote his name in Red Storm lore by stopping all 30 shots he faced

“The more shots I face, the better I play, I think,” LeBlond said. “I faced 30 shots and nothing got in. That’s awesome. Falmouth had the best student section. They printed out large pictures of me they shouldn’t have gotten. They did a good job trying to get my rattled. It was certainly intimidating coming in, but I think I’ve done alright. I’ve never talked to Ben Bragg, but I think I’ve made him proud.”

LeBlond’s play got plenty of praise.

“Ross stepped up tonight,” said Smith. “He saved us a couple times. Our defense really stepped up too. (Falmouth’s) fast in transition, so we had to backcheck.”

“Ross played amazing,” Caron said. “He’s really stepped up to be Ben Bragg. He’s filled the role nicely. You need great goalkeeping in the playoffs. That’s what got us here.”

“We have a great goalie,” Gagne added. “When we needed him, he came up big time and time again.”

Barton tipped his cap too.

“You have to give the kid credit, he stayed strong in there,” Barton said. “He gave up some rebounds, but his defensemen and forwards played well in there and cleared the puck and kept us at bay.”

Falmouth had a 30-25 edge in shots and got 24 saves from Pierce.

“Spencer’s play will get lost in the shuffle and it shouldn’t, but the kid’s the first on the ice, the last off the ice every day in practice and he made Grade A quality saves tonight,” Barton said. “I thought the saves he made were better quality than the stops made at the other end. He’s such a competitor. We’re looking forward to next year with him.”

However, it wasn’t enough, as Falmouth suffered its first shutout loss since Jan. 4, 2014 (1-0 to visiting Cheverus), a span of 55 games, and its first shutout loss in the playoffs since a 3-0 blanking by Biddeford in the 2011 semifinals.

“We’re a very young team,” said Barton. “We made sure the guys were ready and they were ready tonight. I have nothing but compliments for all of them. We’re a young team, only two seniors. Our juniors are our go-to guys and they played well tonight. It was anybody’s game tonight. It’s a tough game to lose.”

The Yachtsmen had another fantastic season, their 21st in a row in which they reached at least the semifinals, but losing for the second straight year to the Red Storm will cause some insomnia in the nights to come.

Falmouth graduates Noyes, Tracy and Mikey Gramse, but returns everyone else and will likely be the favorite in 2016-17.

Two years without a title is long enough for this group.

Our future is bright,” Barton said. “Talk to me in a week and I’ll be happier about it then.”

Enemy territory

Scarborough will feel like a visiting team when it meets Lewiston Saturday night at the Colisee, but the Red Storm have been very competitive against the Blue Devils this year.

Scarborough and Lewiston have no playoff history, but they do, of course, have Gagne in common (Gagne led the Blue Devils to three straight state games as a coach last decade).

The teams played twice this year and nothing was resolved as a 1-1 tie in Saco Feb. 8 was followed by a 4-4 deadlock at the Colisee a week later.

Can the Red Storm put a cherry on their superb season sundae?

They believe they can.

“Lewiston’s a really good, so we’ll have to play our best,” Smith said. “We have to stick to our game. It’s worked for us.”

“I’m going to be nervous, but hopefully, I’ll play well,” LeBlond said. “As long as the first shot doesn’t go in, I’ll be good to go. I look forward to it.”

“It’ll be a 45-minute battle, maybe even longer, who knows?” Caron said. “We’ve tied Lewiston twice. We’ll have to be on our ‘A’ game. It should be fun.”

“It’s been a great year,” Gagne added. “I’m happy we have a chance to repeat. That’s all I want, to get a chance. This place will be rocking on Saturday. It’s going to be the rubber match. Someone will walk out with the win. Why not us?”

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

Scarborough junior Cam Smith, right, celebrates the lone goal of the game as classmate Skylar Pettingill looks on.

Falmouth sophomore goalie Spencer Pierce makes a save on Scarborough junior Kyle Jacques.

Falmouth junior Reece Armitage sends a shot on goal.

Scarborough senior goalie Ross LeBlond denies Falmouth sophomore Louis Mainella point blank.

Falmouth junior Robbie Armitage and Scarborough freshman Mason Parks chase after the puck.

Falmouth freshman Garrett Tracey sends the puck up the ice.

Scarborough senior Cam Nigro shoots on the fly.

Scarborough junior Kyle Jacques fires a shot.

Falmouth captains junior Chris Camelio, senior Hogan Tracy and junior Robbie Armitage receive the runner-up trophy.

Scarborough players and coaches pose with the trophy.

Previous Falmouth-Scarborough playoffs results

2015 Western A semifinals
Scarborough 5 Falmouth 4

2014 Western A Final
Falmouth 5 Scarborough 2

2013 Western A Final
Falmouth 4 Scarborough 3

2012 Western A semifinal
Falmouth 5 Scarborough 3

2007 Western A semifinal
Scarborough 5 Falmouth 1

1996 Western B Final
Scarborough 3 Falmouth 1

1994 Western B quarterfinal
Scarborough 2 Falmouth 1 (2 OT)

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