Yarmouth parties like it’s 2002, blanks Gardiner for regional title

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Yarmouth’s boys’ hockey team celebrates at the final horn of Wednesday’s 5-0 win over Gardiner in the Class B South Final. The Clippers won their first regional championship in 14 seasons and will face Waterville Saturday for the state title.

Chris Lambert photos.

Yarmouth senior captains Walter Conrad, left, Patrick Grant and Noah Grondin receive the regional championship plaque.

More photos below.

LEWISTON—It was a party 5,111 days in the making.

And it was quite a night to be a Clipper.

Past and present.

Yarmouth’s boys’ hockey team capped its long-awaited return to the pinnacle Wednesday evening at the Colisee, dominating Gardiner for most of the teams’ Class B South Final showdown.

The top-ranked Clippers, playing in just their second regional final since winning their most recent state title, never let the second-seeded Tigers get comfortable and after peppering Gardiner junior Michael Poirier with shots most of the first period, Yarmouth broke through with 3:54 remaining, when senior captain Noah Grondin was credited with scoring out of a scrum.

The Clippers added to their lead in the second period, thanks to the heroics of junior Bill Jacobs, who scored on a breakaway and again on the power play to help Yarmouth go up by three.

After killing a Tigers’ penalty to start the third period, the Clippers ended any remaining drama with a goal from sophomore Cooper May.

Then, for good measure, they got a power play tally from sophomore Joe Truesdale, to slam the door on an emphatic 5-0 decision.

Yarmouth won its first regional title since 2002, improved to 16-4, ended Gardiner’s season at 14-5-1 and advanced to meet North region champion Waterville (18-1-1) in the Class B Final Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Colisee.

“We talked about the history of the program this week in practice and about how these kids had a chance to create their own legacy,” said Clippers coach Dave St. Pierre, who was an assistant coach on the last Yarmouth team to win a piece of hardware. “They did that and I’m proud of them.”

Step back in time

Yarmouth and Gardiner playing in Lewiston conjured up all sorts of positive memories for the Clippers.

In 2001, Yarmouth beat the Tigers, 4-1, for its first Class B championship in seven years. Kris Bean scored early and that goal held up into the third period, where Ryan Delaney cemented his legend with a natural hat trick (two breakaway goals and an empty-netter) to clinch it. Goalie Jay Fletcher made 32 saves.

The next year, the Clippers did it again, as Lonnie Darling’s goal in the second overtime produced a 3-2 victory. In that one, best remembered for the lights going out for 15 minutes during the second period at the then-Central Maine Civic Center, the power outage sparked Yarmouth, which trailed, 1-0, at the time, as Greg Abbot tied the score. Abbot put the Clippers up, 2-1, with 9:32 to play in the third, only to see Gardiner tie the score 22 seconds later. That set the stage for Darling’s winner, on a shot coming off a pirouette move that lives on as the program’s highwater mark.

Until now.

The teams kicked off the 2015-16 season back on Dec. 5 when Yarmouth won, 2-0, behind goals from Jacobs and Truesdale and 28 saves from Latham.

The victory was the first of seven straight to start the Clippers’ season and that early momentum wound up leading to a 14-4 campaign and the top seed in Class B South. After a quarterfinal round bye, Friday, Yarmouth downed No. 5 Kennebunk, 5-1, in the semifinals.

Gardiner lost its first two games, but then won eight straight and enjoyed an 11-game unbeaten streak en route to a 13-4-1 record and the second seed in the region. Friday, the Tigers held off No. 6 Cape Elizabeth, 5-4, in a thrilling semifinal.

Gardiner did prevail in a 1981 Western B semifinal (4-3) in the only other previous playoff meeting.

This time around, the Clippers weren’t about to let the Tigers or the weight of history stand in their way.

Yarmouth had some solid early chances.

Just 26 seconds in, May had a shot denied by Poirier.

After Latham made his initial save, on a shot from Gardiner junior Ryan Kelley, senior captain and standout Walter Conrad rushed into the offensive zone and got the puck to Grondin, whose back-handed shot went wide.

After Latham denied Kelley on a rush, May stole the puck and had a good look, but was denied by Poirier.

With 12:17 left in the first period, the Clippers went on the power play for the first time, as Tigers junior Hunter Russell was called for hooking, but couldn’t convert despite three good looks from Conrad (two were saved, one went wide).

After Truesdale’s shot deflected over the goal, Latham had to come up big, as he robbed Gardiner junior Tristan Hebert with a sprawling save at the far post.

After May was denied and Grant couldn’t bury the rebound, Conrad once again put on an individual skills clinic, eluding four defenders before firing a wrister on target, but Poirier made the save.

Undaunted, the Clippers continued to push and were eventually rewarded.

After Poirier denied May and Romano roofed a shot over the goal, Grant rushed into the offensive zone and fired a shot which Poirier blocked but couldn’t snare cleanly and out of a scrum, Romano appeared to poke home the rebound, but Grondin was credited with the goal for a 1-0 lead with 3:54 to go in the first period.

“Getting that goal was huge,” Grondin said. “I’m not sure I actually scored the goal. I thought it might have been Chris. All three of us were going hard. It’s what we needed.”

“We came out and we were flying,” Jacobs said. “We have the motto of, ‘Score first. Score last.’ That set the tempo for the game.”

“They have a strong goalie, one of the best in our league, and he kept them alive as long as he could and kept us at bay, but we went hard to the net, looked for rebound opportunities and they happened,” St. Pierre added.

Yarmouth looked to double its lead late in the first, but Grant was denied and a bid from Conrad was just wide.

In the first 15 minutes, the Clippers enjoyed a 14-7 shots advantage and controlled the puck most of the time.

In the second period, Yarmouth got some much needed separation and protected the larger lead thanks to some solid defense and penalty killing.

Just 16 seconds in, Conrad showed how valuable a defender he is by getting back to break up a rush from Gardiner junior Jake Folsom.

Folsom then had a shot saved and the puck came all the way out to center ice, where Jacobs chased it down and when he looked up, he had no one between him and the goal. In fact, he was joined by Grondin for a 2-on-0 rush, but Jacobs kept the puck, skated inside the right circle and fired a wrister past Poirier into the net for a 2-0 lead with 13:03 to play in the second.

“The puck got flipped out, I saw the opportunity, skated up and beat (the goalie) near side,” Jacobs said. “I had a good angle.”

It wasn’t long until the Clippers added a third goal.

After Folsom shot just wide for the Tigers, Poirier stuffed Conrad at the post, but with 9:52 showing, Gardiner sophomore Cam Bigelow was sent to the box for hooking Grant and 16 seconds later, Jacobs scored a power play goal for a 3-0 lead.

Romano started the play with a shot which was saved, but the puck sat free and was poked at several times before Jacobs finished. May and Grant were given assists.

“(Jacobs) got a few and was a contributor on defense too,” Grondin said. “It was an all-around, solid effort.”

With 8 minutes left, Yarmouth went back on the power play and had a chance to put it away, but Poirier kept his team’s faint hopes alive by denying Conrad, Grant, Jacobs and May.

Grant was then sent off for holding, but any Tigers’ advantage quickly disappeared when Russell was sent off for a high stick.

With 3:38 to go in the second, Romano was sent off for hooking, but Latham denied Russell and Folsom and Bigelow shot just wide.

With 43 seconds left, the Clippers took another penalty, as junior Owen Ramsay was called for interference. Latham then denied senior Logan Peacock and a Kelley shot deflected high and while Yarmouth was up, 3-0, heading to the second intermission, the win wasn’t yet secured.

The Clippers then ended all doubt in the third period and the party started long before the final horn.

Gardiner tried desperately to get back in the game on the power play, but Latham denied Kelley, Peacock and Folsom to kill the penalty.

“We reminded the guys that Cape came back last game against Gardiner on the power play and we stressed getting out of that PK and taking care of business,” St. Pierre said.

Then, May broke free, skated in and finished unassisted with 13:25 remaining to make it 4-0 and essentially end the competitive phase of the contest.

“Momentum is a huge thing in these games,” Conrad said. “Once momentum shifted our way, we kept rolling and never gave them a chance to get back in it.”

After Latham stopped shots from junior Kyle Coombs and Hebert and Bigelow shot just wide, Tigers sophomore Connor Manter went off for elbowing and Yarmouth delivered the coup de grace.

With 3:47 left, on the power play, Conrad fed Truesdale at the far post and Truesdale finished to make it 5-0.

Gardiner never threatened from there and at 8:40 p.m., for the first time since March 5, 2002, a mere 30 days after the Patriots’ first Super Bowl championship, when the Arizona Diamondbacks were reigning World Series champions, when “ER” and “Friends” ruled the television airwaves, “40 Days and 40 Nights” and “Lord of the Rings” were top movies and No Doubt’s “Hey Baby” was the top single, Yarmouth got to celebrate a regional championship.

And did the Clippers ever celebrate.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Conrad said. “I’m really proud of the boys in the locker room. Everyone just came together at the right moment. Everyone’s playing great hockey. It’s fun to watch. We knew (the Tigers) were good and we didn’t know what to expect. We had to stick to our game plan, play defensive hockey and work hard and it paid off for us.”

“It was an awesome win,” Jacobs said. “We hadn’t been able to get this far. The captains got us together and we thought we were going to win it.”

It’s really exciting,” Grondin said. “I’m glad we could make it so far. We can put another number on the banner and now we have a chance to put up another one Saturday.”

“I watched film from the first game and talked about where they were strong and where we had an opportunity, but we really just talked about our game and doing what we wanted,” St. Pierre added.

“It’s a special group of kids. I told them at the start of the week that I was so glad to have another week of practice with them just to be around them. With the senior leadership we have, they understood what happened last year (a painful overtime loss to Gorham in the semifinals) and they don’t want that to happen again. Last year, we had a really good shot. We were playing well going into the playoffs, but overtime hockey is overtime hockey and we fell short. We’ve used that as motivation since day one. We came out strong this year and kept our focus.”

Yarmouth finished with a 34-24 shots advantage and went 2 for 6 on the power play. Conrad and Grant never found the net, but four different players scored in a balanced performance.

“What makes me happiest is guys like Bill Jacobs, Chris Romano and Joe Truesdale having success,” Conrad said. “Now, we’re producing like never before. It’s awesome how we’ve come together as a team.”

Latham stood tall by stopping all 24 shots he faced.

Like any good goalie, Latham deflected praise to his defensemen.

“The defense always comes up big for me,” Latham said. “They force everyone wide, let me make easy saves and rebounds. When you see a lot of shots, you get in a rhythm. It’s better than not seeing any shots. It also makes me feel like I did something and like I’m part of the team.”

There was plenty of praise for Latham from his teammates and coach.

“Dan is unbelievable,” Conrad said. “To have a goaltender back there who can make all the saves and even some he shouldn’t, is huge for the team. He’s carrying us right now.”

“I can’t say enough about Dan,” said St. Pierre. “He hadn’t seen a game of varsity hockey until this year. He worked his tail off in the offseason getting ready to play. He wanted it more than anything in the world. I’m so happy he got the shutout tonight. It shows hard work pays off.”

Gardiner failed to convert their two power plays and got 29 saves from Poirier.

Forty-five minutes to glory

Yarmouth can now focus on winning its final game, something last done by the 2002 team, which was coached by current assistant Scott Matusovich (assistant Dennis Hunt was also involved with both teams, both times as an assistant).

St. Pierre said that sharing this ride with Matusovich, his mentor, has made it extra sweet.

“It’s odd how things come full circle,” St. Pierre said. “This means a lot. When I became coach, he was the first call I made, asking him to coach with me. He’s such a special coach. For my money, he’s one of the best coaches around. I wanted him on the bench with me. That was an absolute must.”

The Clippers suffered their first loss of the season, 3-2, at the hands of the visiting Purple Panthers Jan. 9. Grant and Conrad scored in the first period for an early Yarmouth lead, but Waterville scored three times in the second period and held on for the victory. Latham made 26 saves.

The teams have no postseason history.

They’re about to make some and Yarmouth can’t wait for the opportunity.

“We’re excited,” Latham said. “We’ve worked all season for this. We have to keep working hard. We’ve stressed defensive zone hockey, winning our battles and grinding.”

“We expect the same exact thing, another close game,” Grondin said. “We have to play like tonight and play as hard as we did from the start and keep the pressure on all night.”

“The biggest thing will be slowing them down through the neutral zone, because they’re a very fast team and they transition well,” Jacobs said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

“We just have to play our game, come out as hard as we can, play defensive zone hockey and let the rest take care of itself,” said Conrad, who already has a soccer state title to his credit this school year. “We’ll give it our best shot Saturday. It’ll be a great game. We want a state championship.”

“I’ve got the utmost respect for Waterville,” St. Pierre added. “They’re a great hockey team with a lot of offense and a really strong defense. We have to try to put a game plan together to try and slow them down as much as we can. We hope to keep it tight and pull out a win.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Yarmouth senior Patrick Grant is denied by Gardiner junior Michael Poirier as sophomore defenseman Connor Manter looks on.

Yarmouth senior Walter Conrad speeds up the ice as Gardiner junior Tristan Hebert gives chase.

Yarmouth senior Patrick Grant speeds past Gardiner sophomore Cameron Bigelow.

Yarmouth junior Bill Jacobs fires a shot past Gardiner junior goalie Michael Poirier for a 2-0 lead in the second period.

Yarmouth junior Chris Romano, left, senior Patrick Grant, junior Bill Jacobs and sophomore Cooper May celebrate Jacobs’ second goal which put the Clippers ahead, 3-0, in the second period.

Yarmouth sophomore Cooper May beats Gardiner junior goalie Michael Poirier for a 4-0 lead early in the third period.

Yarmouth’s student section, the YC Ultras, had plenty to get excited about Wednesday.

The 2016 Class B South champions pose for a photo following the win.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.