PORTLAND—In what’s still considered the greatest strategy ever employed to win a boxing match, Muhammad Ali perfectly executed what he would later call the “rope-a-dope” to regain the heavyweight title in 1974 with an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman.
Lying against the ropes, Ali seduced the heavily-favored grillmaster into essentially punching himself exhausted before charging back late to win the now famous “Rumble in the Jungle.”
With a similar strategy, yet on skates, the Yarmouth boys’ hockey team spent each practice leading up to the playoffs focused almost exclusively on conditioning to build the necessary stamina and leg strength it would need to outlast the highly-skilled Windjammers from Camden Hills.
This plan, set into motion by Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted the first postseason practice the Clippers held after learning how the standings shook out worked to absolute perfection.
Trailing 1-0 to begin the final period, third-ranked Yarmouth stormed back with three unanswered goals and saw its hard work pay off with a 3-1 upset victory over No. 2 Camden Hills in the first of two Western Class B hockey semifinal round games on Saturday night at the Portland Ice Arena.
“I’ve never skated a team harder than these guys over the last few weeks,” said Halsted. “I absolutely punished them. We played Camden Hills twice during the regular season and we knew they were a very fast, north-south linear team. We had to close the gaps and reduce space. That was the key. This was like a boxing match and we had to go deep to win. We had to maintain those gaps, keep the game close and take them in the later rounds. We had the legs left to finish them off.”
Anchored by outstanding play between the pipes from senior goalie Ethan Gray (23 saves), Yarmouth (10-9) hung around long enough for junior forward Joey King to tie the game with a power-play goal three minutes into the third and take the lead for good with just over six minutes left, when junior Davis Brown found the puck out front at the top of crease and lifted it top shelf to hush the clamorous gathering of Camden Hills (14-5) fans that made the long trip south. A late empty-netter finished the scoring.
Things didn’t start out great for the Clippers. After just 1:34 of action, the Windjammers had jumped out to 1-0 lead when junior Will Orne teed up a rocket slapper from the blue line that was tipped home by senior Jeffrey Jordan hanging around at Gray’s right post.
The 1-0 lead would stand throughout the entire second period despite a pair of penalties including a 10-minute misconduct that sent Orne to the box until the opening moments of the third. After sending a wrister on net from the left side of the crease, Orne launched himself headfirst at Gray’s skates as the goalie rummaged around trying to cover up and limit any chance for the Windjammers to poke in a rebound. Yarmouth wasn’t able to capitalize on Orne’s absence, but his loss did force Camden Hills to juggle its lines for a full 12 minutes of the 45-minute game.
With 45 seconds left in the second period, Jordan was whistled for boarding and though the Windjammers killed off the first 1:16 of the third down a skater, they would not survive another penalty just 17 seconds after returning to even strength.
On the power play for the fifth time, the Clippers finally capitalized when King rushed into the crease and found the loose puck waiting for him out front. Yarmouth sophomore Eamon Costello won the battle behind the net and sent the puck drifting out just to the right of the post, where King cradled it on his blade and lifted it high passed Camden Hills senior goalie Jacob Filderman (30 saves) to tie the score at 1-1 with 12:04 remaining.
“When we found out we made the playoffs coach’s main goal was to condition us,” said King. “That’s what happened in the third period. We had the legs to hold them off late. They have a big, strong, physical team and we had to match that. We played them twice in the regular season. The game that we came out and played physical we won.”
Less than two minutes later, Davis found himself in an eerily similar situation when sophomore Alex Kurtz collected the puck after senior Ian McGlip had forced a turnover and dumped it into the zone behind the net. Kurtz muscled the puck out front to the top of the crease and Davis picked it up and went top shelf to give Yarmouth the 2-1 lead with 6:19 left to play in third period.
“(Ian) McGlip did a great job on the forecheck and Kurtz battled for it down low,” said Brown. “I scored but it was just a great team effort. We spent all last week working on our conditioning. We still had our legs in the third period and that was the difference. We just had to hang in there early and trust that all the work we did conditioning would be there in the end. Camden Hills was a great team. This means so much to us.”
The Clippers survived a furious late push from Camden Hills over the next five minutes until King added his second goal, an empty netter with a minute left, to advance to the Western Class B Final for the first time in eight seasons.
Yarmouth faced top-ranked York Wednesday in Lewiston at the Colisee. York (16-3) advanced with a 3-2 win over fourth-ranked Greely (8-9-2) in the nightcap. The teams’ last playoff meeting came in the 2007 semifinals (a 7-2 York victory).
The Wildcats handled the Clippers rather easily in their two regular season meetings with a 7-1 win on Jan. 8 at Travis Roy Ice Arena, and again, 5-1, in Dover, N.H., on Feb. 1.
Yarmouth senior captain Steven Petrovek, who returned from injury for the playoffs, skates up-ice with the puck during Saturday’s 3-1 regional semifinal round victory over York, the Clippers’ first semifinal win in eight years.
Yarmouth sophomore Eamon Costello was stymied by the Camden Hills goalie Saturday. The Clippers faced red-hot, top-ranked York in the Western B Final.
Yarmouth sophomore Alex Kurtz races past a Camden defender. The Clippers saved their best for last Saturday, scoring all three goals in the third period.
With the puck lying free, Yarmouth senior goalie Ethan Gray and sophomores Max Grimm (7) and Alex Kurtz make sure it stays out of harm’s way. The Clippers surrendered just one goal in the victory.
Yarmouth sophomore Marshall Brunelle and a Camden player look more like fencers than hockey players during the teams’ semifinal round game Saturday.