LEWISTON—The Yarmouth boys’ hockey team saved its biggest character statement for the very end.
Wednesday night, in the Western Class B Final at the Colisee, the third-ranked Clippers trailed No. 1 York 5-1 in the second period after a five-goal burst by the favored Wildcats and could have easily rolled over and been content watching the program’s finest season in eight years come to an uneventful conclusion.
Instead, Yarmouth once again showed its pride and heart, rallying to within a goal before its dream run ended with a 5-4 defeat.
The valiant Clippers didn’t lose.
They simply ran out of time.
“We didn’t go away down 5-1,” said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted. “We scored three goals in 10 minutes when we could have packed it in. York’s bigger, stronger and faster. Give them credit, but I’m proud of how my guys kept digging away.”
Turning back the clock
In 2001 (led by the heroics of Ryan Delaney) and 2002 (behind Jay Fletcher’s clutch goalkeeping and Lonnie Darling’s overtime game-winner), Yarmouth won Class B championships in Lewiston.
Virtually no one thought the Clippers would still be playing in March when the 2009-10 season commenced, but they somehow overcame injuries and youth and won their final four regular season contests to wind up 9-9 and earn the No. 3 spot for the Western B playoffs.
Yarmouth was a heavy underdog against No. 2 Camden Hills in the semifinals, but erupted for three third period goals to advance, 3-1.
The Clippers lost twice in the regular season to York, 7-1 at home on Jan. 8 and 5-1 in York on Feb. 1. The teams last met in the playoffs in the 2007 semifinals (a 7-2 Wildcats victory). Yarmouth beat York in the 1988 semifinals (4-2), the 1991 regional final (3-2, in overtime) , the 1993 regional final (5-4) and the 2001 semifinals (3-2).
Wednesday, the Clippers looked to get the jump and give the Wildcats a scare and did just that.
Just 2 minutes, 31 seconds in, York took a penalty and with five seconds remaining on the power play, Yarmouth took a 1-0 lead when junior Ben Nickerson took a pass from junior Davis Brown and fired a shot from just inside the blue line, which eluded York junior goalie Alex Ahrikenchickh.
With 5:39 to play in the first, the Clippers appeared to make it 2-0 when senior Marshall Brunelle scored, but the goal was waved off (correctly) due to an illegal hand pass.
That seemed to awaken the Wildcats, who would dominate the next 18 minutes.
York tied the score with 4:50 to play in the first period when freshman Jared Clauson set up junior Dillon DellaPasqua for a shot, which got past Clippers senior goalie Ethan Gray. With 3:26 left, York went ahead to stay, 2-1, when, after two shots were saved and a third hit the post, sophomore Craig Decato rattled home a rebound.
The Wildcats threatened to run away and hide in the second.
With 8:10 left, senior Connor Murphy set up senior David Figlioli for a goal and it was 3-1. Less than two minutes later, the combo delivered again, as Figlioli tipped home a Murphy shot to make it 4-1. With 4:32 left in the second, junior George Lindbom hit the post, but senior Corey Decato was there for the rebound and Yarmouth appeared finished, down 5-1.
But with 1:56 to go in the period, the comeback began as Brunelle assisted junior Joey King for a goal. The Clippers had a chance to draw even closer on the power play, but couldn’t convert and trailed 5-2 heading for the third.
When Brown scored on a rebound with 7:13 to play in regulation, cutting the deficit to 5-3, the Yarmouth crowd came to life. Yarmouth kept the pressure on and with 3:26 to play, again on the power play, sophomore Max Grimm fired home a shot from the blue line and suddenly, the Clippers were within a goal.
Yarmouth had an opportunity to draw closer, but couldn’t get a good shot on net. Then, with 49.7 seconds remaining, the Clippers took an untimely penalty and even though Gray was pulled, they couldn’t get the equalizer and the game and season ended with a 5-4 loss.
Yarmouth wound up 10-10 and skated off with heads held high.
“It’s been a fun three weeks to be a part of Yarmouth hockey,” Halsted said. “We were 5-9 after losing 9-1 to Edward Little. We lost two of our best players that game and were down to 12 skaters. We played Noble 48 hours and had a senior playing with one shoulder, Ian McGilp, who found a way to lead us to victory. We upset Noble, we beat Westbrook, we beat Leavitt and we beat Gardiner, who outshot us. For two weeks, we punished these kids, conditioning-wise. They did everything I asked for two weeks and deserve so much credit. I’ve never been so hard on a group of kids during playoff time. They responded and were in great shape. We upset Camden and almost pulled it off tonight.
Rest assured, Clippers Pride has been restored.
“I can’t point to anything but the character of our team,” Halsted said. “It’s a belief that Yarmouth doesn’t give up. (Former coach) Scott Matusovich put this program on the map. I hope we made him proud tonight.”
York had a 27-19 edge in shots, but Gray made 22 saves to keep his team in the contest.
“Ethan gets no publicity,” Halsted said. “He played about his 80th game tonight. He’s gotten beaten severely and he’s won some big games. He didn’t go away in the third. He made some big saves. He’s a great character kid. If I have a little boy who’s like Ethan Gray, I’ll be very proud.”
The Clippers went 3-for-7 on the power play, while the Wildcats failed in their four attempts.
Gray, Brunelle, McGilp, Steven Petrovek (who played in the postseason despite injury) and Conor Costello persevered through lean times to enjoy triumph as seniors, returning the program to prominence in the process.
“Their freshman year, we were talented enough to make a semifinal game, then we had to rebuild off-ice and on-ice,” Halsted said. “A lot of people gave up on this program. Those seniors didn’t go away. They came to work every day. It’s a great way for them to go out. We got here an hour-and-a-half early. I wanted the kids to experience the ambiance. It’s a fun building to play in.”
The silver lining is that several talented players will return next winter after receiving trial by fire and tasting victory. Yarmouth is on the cusp of being a premier program again and hopes to get back to this level next winter and finish the job.
The kids have to stay in Yarmouth and want to play for Yarmouth,” Halsted said. “We have a very good junior high program. It’s coming. We have talent. Maintaining character and pride is the most important thing. Wins and losses will come. This program will continue to rise.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com