PORTLAND — Despite another gritty effort, the undermanned Portland boys’ hockey team saw its woes continue in an early start Saturday morning when the Bulldogs slipped and fell to South Portland, 6-2, in a rough one between a pair of Western Class A rivals at the Portland Ice Arena.
The Bulldogs fell behind 3-1 after the first period but held the Red Riots scoreless through the second and pulled within a goal at 3-2 in the third before running out of steam.
Portland suffered a 30-second collapse midway through the final period and watched the Red Riots pour in three quick goals and put the game out of reach.
Senior Jason Knight had scored from classmate Scott Briggs in the first period for the Bulldogs and senior Ben DiBiase scored his first career goal unassisted on the power-play at 8:28 of the third to suddenly make things quite interesting.
But just when Portland appeared to have fought back into the game, South Portland freshman Neil Maietta picked up three points in a 27-second flash, scoring at 11:04, assisting on a goal for Nick Whitten at 11:16, and then finishing his impressive run with a clever feed out in front to James Gilboy for a wrister at 11:31 of the final period.
When the dust had settled, the Bulldogs found themselves 0-3, while the Red Riots improved to 1-1.
Portland freshman goalie Jonny Gatti continued to impress between the pipes, turning away 27 shots, including all 10 he faced while holding the Red Riots scoreless in the second period.
“I thought our goalie played well and gave us a chance to come back and get in the game,” said Portland coach Andy Gildart. “We took a timeout and (DiBiase) scores his first varsity goal on the power play to make it 3-2, and it looked we could get a little momentum going there late, but then we took a minute off and South Portland made us pay with three straight goals.”
Sophomore goalie Dominic Desjardins turned away 36 shots for South Portland in the win. Portland fired 19 shots on net in the third period but could sneak only one by Desjardins, returning for his second-year in goal for the Red Riots.
South Portland jumped out to a 1-0 lead when junior Lynden Mazur found classmate Zach Horton for a score before two minutes had ticked off in the first period.
Things settled down for nearly 10 minutes before Robert Hannigan scored on the power-play to put the Red Riots on top 2-0 at 6:56 of the first.
Briggs, an all-league selection last season as a junior, found Knight for a wrister at 7:07 to get within one for a brief stretch before the Red Riots scored again to close out the first leading 3-1. South Portland’s Brian Cleary poked home a loose puck in the crease on a rebound off a D.J. Conley shot for the two-goal lead.
As can be typical of any Portland/South Portland sporting event, the second period gave way to a little roughhousing as both teams went to the box in droves and neither team scored a goal.
The Red Riots were whistled for 13 penalties and Portland had nine. Often with one player from each team occupying the penalty box, South Portland finished 2-of-5 on the man-advantage, while the Bulldogs continued to struggle on the power-play with one goal to show for nine chances in the game. So far this season, Portland has converted just three times in 23 tries with an extra skater.
“It’s unacceptable for us to finish 1-for-9 on the power-play,” said Gildart.“ But South Portland works hard and has a couple of freshmen that can contribute. The hunt for the last few playoff spots should be interesting this year. There are a lot of evenly matched teams.”
DiBiase managed to score unassisted on the power-play in the third period but it wasn’t enough for the Bulldogs. Maietta answered with his dizzying three-point spree to put it away for the Red Riots.
The Bulldogs manage barely enough players to fill up a few lines and some change but still have plenty of talented players and Gatti has been a welcome addition in net. Portland has faced some tough competition to start the season and has yet to enter the win column after dropping three straight to Falmouth (5-1), Gorham (4-3, in overtime), and now South Portland.
Portland still hopes to even its record before breaking for the holiday season but will have to do it on the road with games at Deering Thursday (6 p.m. start at PIA), Marshwood Saturday and Gorham Wednesday, Dec. 22.