After failing to qualify for the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and after struggling to just seven combined victories over the past two years, the Yarmouth boys’ hockey is thrilled to be returning to the postseason this winter.
The Clippers closed the regular season with a flourish, winning their final four games, to grab the No. 3 spot for the Western Class B tournament.
Last week, Yarmouth won 4-2 at home over Westbrook, edged host Leavitt 3-2, then held off visiting Gardiner 7-5 Monday to balance the slate at 9-9 and punch its ticket.
“During our first team meeting in November we talked about 10 wins, going at least 6-6 in our conference, and earning a playoff spot,” said Clippers coach Marc Halsted. “We won’t reach the 10 wins, but we’ve met our goal of returning to the playoffs for the first time in three years. Since then, our current seniors have struggled through some dark days with tough losses, major injuries, and a genuine lack of respect from a lot of people inside and outside our community. This is vindication and our kids are proud.
“What’s more of a statement is the fact that we’ve been without our senior captain and top center, Steven Petrovek for the last ten games because of a leg injury. We also lost two other top forwards and one of our defensemen over a seven-day span in mid-January. We beat Noble and Westbrook last week with just 12 skaters and that says a lot about the heart our younger kids have. I’m extremely proud to work with these kids every day.”
The Clippers will meet Camden (14-4) in the semifinals, Feb. 27 at the Portland Ice Arena. Back in the season opener, Dec. 5, Yarmouth eked out a 3-2 win at Camden. The Clippers fell 5-3 at home to Camden on Jan. 30. The teams have no prior playoff history.
“We’ll clearly be the underdog, but we have two weeks to prepare mentally and physically,” Halsted said. “We’re happy to back in the top half of Class B hockey and we’re going to empty the bucket for the next two weeks in hopes of making an upset happen.”
Defending state-champion Greely is also playoff-bound. The Rangers, basically starting from scratch this winter, went 8-8-2 and wound up with the fourth and final postseason spot in Western B. Greely sandwiched losses to York (4-1) and Falmouth (7-2) around a 12-1 home win over Westbrook in its final three games.
“We have a chance,” said coach Barry Mothes. “We’re still playing some hockey. Hopefully we’ll play better than we’ve been playing.”
The Rangers will face red-hot, top-ranked York (15-3) in the semifinals on Feb. 27. Greely also lost at York this year, 4-3 on Dec. 16. The teams have a rich and memorable playoff history this decade, playing seven previous times since 2001. Greely holds a 4-3 edge. Six of the contests were decided by a goal and three went to overtime. Last year (an 8-0 Rangers’ romp in the semifinals) was the only non-competitive tilt.
“York’s good,” Mothes said. “They’re fast. Their forwards are quick and physical. They’re playing very well right now. There’s a reason why they’re 15-3. In the last game, we didn’t play as well as I hoped we might. We had 15 shots on net and it’s not enough. We didn’t execute as well as we hoped.”
The Western B Final is Tuesday, March 2 in Lewiston. The Class B state game is Saturday, March 6 in Lewiston.
In Western A, Falmouth is once again on the short list of favorites. After starting 4-3-1, the Yachtsmen went 8-1-1 the rest of the way to wind up 12-4-2. Falmouth enjoyed three easy victories down the stretch, beating Gorham (10-0), South Portland (7-2) and Greely (7-2).
“I think we’ve been playing great hockey,” said Yachtsmen coach Scott Rousseau. “Since Jan. 1, we have the same record as Biddeford, Lewiston and Thornton Academy. We had a tough start, but our offense has come along. (Senior) Jay (Hurdmann) is playing terrific in goal.”
Falmouth begins its quest for a first-ever Western A and state championship Tuesday of next week in the quarterfinals. The Yachtsmen will host the No. 6 seed, either Deering (10-4-3), Portland (9-9) or Noble (13-5). Falmouth only played the Bulldogs this year, winning 5-1 in the opener on Dec. 5. The Yachtsmen eliminated Portland in the 2004 quarterfinals (3-1) in the only prior playoff meeting. Falmouth has no postseason history with the Rams or Knights.
“It’s a matter of going to the playoffs and getting some breaks,” said Rousseau, who hasn’t gotten many over the years.
The Western Class A semifinals are Saturday, Feb. 27. The regional final is Tuesday, March 6. The Class A state game is Saturday, March 6. All of those rounds will be played in Lewiston.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org