Prior to Saturday, the South Portland boys’ hockey team had never participated in a regional semifinal round playoff game.
This program just keeps setting the bar higher.
Arguably the finest season in school history ultimately came to a close with a 7-2 loss to powerhouse, top-ranked Biddeford at the Colisee in Lewiston, but the Red Riots will be back for more in the years to come.
South Portland overcame a 1-3 start to finish 14-4 in the regular season, good for the No. 4 seed in Western Class A. After rallying past No. 5 Portland, 3-2, in dramatic fashion in the quarterfinals, the Red Riots earned a date with the Tigers, the 2007 and 2008 state champion, in the semifinal round. Back on Dec. 10, in the opener, South Portland lost 7-1 to Biddeford. This was the teams’ first playoff meeting.
The Tigers, as expected, went on to a victory, but the result didn’t tell the whole story.
Biddeford raced to a 4-0 lead after one period, but the Red Riots didn’t fold. A goal from junior Robert Hannigan at 9:31 of the second got them on the board. The Tigers led 5-1 into the third, but just 16 seconds in to the final stanza, freshman Neil Maietta scored to give South Portland a whiff of hope. The Red Riots kept it a three-goal contest until Biddeford closed out the 7-2 with a pair of late tallies.
South Portland was only outshot 33-28 and sophomore goalie Dominic Desjardins stopped 26 shots.
“In my opinion, the final score wasn’t any indication of how the game was played,” said Red Riots coach Joe Robinson. “Other than the first four minutes of the first period and maybe the last two or three minutes of the game, due to lack of legs at that point, we outplayed Biddeford. We also had a goal taken back or waved off that my players swear was over the goal line. Anyway, I think we came out too fired up and lost focus on positioning and game plan in the first four minutes. The guys were ready to go, but unfortunately, it’s hard to come back from being four goals down to the number one seed. Biddeford is a very talented team and they showed it that night.
“I’m very proud of my team. There is no quit in them. They love hockey and take great pride in wearing the Red Riots jersey.”
South Portland finished 15-5, tying last year’s squad for the most wins in program history. The victory over Portland was just its second postseason triumph ever.
“The season as a whole started out a little shaky with us being 1-3 going into Christmas,” Robinson said. “We played (regional finalists) Biddeford and Thornton Academy right off the bat, but I figured playing those top teams early would benefit us in the long run, which I believe it did. After the break, we came out flying and won 13 games in a row. It was a very fun and exciting run at the time. The kids were very happy and proud of their accomplishments.”
The best news for South Portland is that it graduates only one senior (Aiden Boyce). This year’s experience will serve the Red Riots well and they figure to take on a tougher schedule in 2010-11. Don’t be surprised if they make a return trip to Lewiston a year from now.
“We’re only losing one senior, so we have basically our whole team coming back with a few decent freshmen coming up, so we should be right back into the mix of things,” Robinson said. “Our schedule will be harder, but that’s what we want. We probably won’t have the same type of record we had over the last two seasons, but our goal is to just make the playoffs where at that point anything can happen. I know the kids and the coaching staff are extremely excited about next year.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com