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Scarborough beats SP/Freeport/Waynflete in 2 OTs to return to states

PORTLAND—Live by the overtime goal, die by the overtime goal.

No one knows that better than the Scarborough boys’ hockey team, which two years ago, won its state semifinal round playoff game in three OTs, then lost in double-overtime in the state final.

Tuesday evening at the Cross Insurance Arena, for the second time this postseason, the Red Storm got new life with an overtime goal.

And as a result, they live to play another day and will compete for the prize which eluded them two years ago.

The Class A state championship.

Facing No. 3 South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete in a state semifinal, the seventh-ranked Red Storm continued their recent surge with one of the most memorable victories in program history.

After a scoreless first period, Scarborough opened the scoring just 12 seconds into the second, when senior Jack Matthews scored on the power play.

But SP/Freeport/Waynflete answered at 3:59 of the period, as sophomore Tobey Lappin finished. Then, just over a minute later, junior Roah Hopkins ripped a long shot past Red Storm junior goalie Keegan Weed for a 2-1 lead, which carried to the third period.

And there, SP/Freeport/Waynflete went up by two goals 47 seconds in, when junior Ian Wright scored on the power play.

But Scarborough is nothing if not resilient and battled back.

Big-time.

First, sophomore Olin Pedersen spun and finished at 1:24 of the third.

Then, at 6:22, junior Billy Mahoney’s short-handed goal tied it.

With 5:03 to play, a fortuitous bounce put the puck on the stick of Matthews right in front and he finished to suddenly put the Red Storm ahead, but SP/Freeport/Waynflete had a comeback in it as well and just 23 seconds remaining, Hopkins scored for the second time.

Neither team would score the remainder of regulation and the contest went to an eight-minute, “sudden victory” overtime session.

Where, despite good chances each ways, neither squad was able to end it.

So the game went to a second overtime and there, 3:21 in, freshman Wyatt Grondin played the hero for the second time this postseason, banging home a loose puck at the far post to give Scarborough a palpitating 5-4 victory.

Scarborough improved to 12-8-1, ended SP/Freeport/Waynflete’s fine season at 13-7-1 and advanced to battle No. 5 Thornton Academy (15-5) in the Class A state final Saturday at 3 p.m., at the Cross Insurance Arena.

“We just had to stay the course,” said Red Storm first-year coach Eric Wirsing. “We know it’s a 45-minute game, or more in some cases, and we had to take advantage of every moment we had.”

Best for last

Both teams have had ups and downs this season, but put it together when it mattered most.

SP/Freeport/Waynflete won six of its first seven games, including a victory at Lewiston, then lost to Scarborough and Biddeford. After winning three straight, losses to Lewiston and Portland/Deering followed. Late in the season, SP/Freeport/Waynflete lost to Thornton Academy and tied Scarborough before closing with a 3-0 win over Biddeford.

SP/Freeport/Waynflete had no trouble with No. 14 St. Dom’s in the Class A state preliminary round, prevailing, 5-1. The squad then held off No. 6 Lake Region, 3-2, in the state quarterfinals.

Scarborough endured two different three-game losing streaks this winter and only finished 9-8-1, but caught fire as the No. 7 seed.

The Red Storm got pushed to the brink by No. 10 Portland/Deering in last Wednesday’s Class A state preliminary round, but managed to advance in overtime, 6-5, on Grondin’s goal. Scarborough then had to make the long trip north to battle No. 2 Bangor in the semifinals Friday and this time, the Red Storm advanced with a little more ease, 4-2, behind a hat trick from senior standout Sam Rumelhart.

“To be honest, we spent the first half of the year just getting to know each other,” said Wirsing. “We tried to get guys to understand that everything we do is with a purpose and with the long-term objective of playing our best hockey when it matters most.”

The Red Storm beat SP/Freeport/Waynflete in the first regular season meeting, 2-1, Jan. 20 in Portland. The teams then tied, 1-1, Feb. 19 in Gorham.

The teams had never before met in the playoffs, but Tuesday, in front of a vocal crowd, they put on a show.

And more than 45 minutes were needed to determine a winner.

Each team had chances in the scoreless first period, but Weed (five saves) and SP/Freeport/Waynflete junior goalie Jasper Curtis (seven saves) stood tall.

SP/Freeport/Waynflete junior Richard Gilboy rang a shot off the crossbar midway through the period and after SP/Freeport/Waynflete went on the power play, Weed robbed senior Cullen Adams and junior Dylan Hannan.

With 35 seconds to go in the first period, Hopkins was sent to the penalty box and Curtis had to come up huge with 13 seconds to go, denying junior Jordan Sheppard to sent the contest to the first intermission still scoreless.

Both teams then found their offense in the second period.

Still on the power play to start, the Red Storm grabbed a 1-0 lead just 12 seconds in, as junior Will Fallona set up Matthews for a shot which Curtis couldn’t stop.

SP/Freeport/Waynflete would answer at 3:59, as Gilboy got the puck to Lappin and he sent it past Weed to tie it, 1-1.

Then, at 5:16, off a faceoff, Adams sent the puck back to Hopkins beyond the circle and Hopkins ripped a shot that rang off the left post and in for a 2-1 SP/Freeport/Waynflete lead.

Weed kept the deficit at one by denying senior Cam Morrill and Curtis kept his team in front by robbing junior Daemon Bobbin.

With 1:10 left, a hooking penalty on Scarborough senior Jack Carlista put SP/Freeport/Waynflete on the power play, but it couldn’t convert, as Lappin missed just wide and Wright had a shot saved by Weed before Weed turned away Lappin’s rebound bid, sending the contest to the second intermission with the score still 2-1.

As Scarborough did at the start of the second period, SP/Freeport/Waynflete scored quickly on the power play at the onset of the third.

Forty-seven seconds in, Wright was able to poke the puck past Weed, with Gilboy and Lappin getting assists, and the score was 3-1.

“The first time we played them, our forecheck was different and the second time, we played them on their big rink, but this time, we just stuck with our 2-1-2 and went at them hard,” said SP/Freeport/Waynflete coach Joe Robinson. “We just put pressure on.”

The Red Storm were on the ropes, but they’ve found themselves there all season and quickly responded.

After Curtis made a save on a shot from Matthews, Pedersen got his team going after a pretty individual move, spinning and firing the puck into the net to cut the deficit to one at 1:24.

After Curtis preserved the lead by robbing Grondin, SP/Freeport/Waynflete went on the power play at 5:46, but it would be Scarborough taking advantage, as Matthews got the puck to Mahoney, who raced up the left side, then roofed a shot past Curtis to tie the contest, 3-3.

“I tried to tell the guys to focus, but sometimes it’s easier said than done,” Robinson said. “Scarborough worked hard the whole time. That’s a good squad over there that’s coached well.”

SP/Freeport/Waynflete stayed on the power play and tried to go back on top, but Weed saved shots from Wright and Adams.

Then, with 5:23 left, the Red Storm got another favorable bounce, as Grondin, from the right side, fired a shot wide, but the rebound came off the boards right to Matthews by the left post and Matthews sent it in for a 4-3 lead, giving Scarborough three goals in just over eight minutes.

SP/Freeport/Waynflete then rose off the deck just 43 seconds later, as again off the faceoff, Adams got the puck to Hopkins, who fired it home, tying the score for the third time, 4-4.

Late in regulation, Weed stood tall on a rush by Hannan, then he fell on a loose puck in front of the goal and the game would go to overtime.

In high school hockey, teams play an eight-minute OT, with the first goal ending it.

In this case, more than one overtime would be necessary.

Early in OT, Weed denied Gilboy and Curtis saved a tip from Fallona.

Midway through the session, a backhand attempt from Rumelhart showed promise, but Curtis made the save.

Weed made his biggest save with 1:06 on the clock, as Adams broke in looking to end it, but Weed knocked aside his back-hand attempt.

With time winding down, Curtis had to deny Grondin, then robbed Fallona on the rebound and at the other end, Adams missed just wide and the contest went to the second OT.

After the ice was resurfaced while both teams took a breather, Carlista tried to end it early in the second extra session and while Curtis made the save, Fallona managed to bang home the rebound, but the goal didn’t count, as an official blew the play dead.

“I heard the whistle, then saw the puck go in, so I kind of knew it wasn’t a goal,” Wirsing said. “We just had to get back after it.”

SP/Freeport/Waynflete then had two more chances to end it, but Weed saved Adams’ redirect of a shot by sophomore Hewitt Sykes and Gilboy’s bid was saved by Weed as well.

Then, with 6:11 left in the OT, Lappin was sent off for tripping and Scarborough would win it on the subsequent power play.

After junior Griffin Denbow missed wide, Rumelhart had a shot saved and Grondin’s rebound was denied, the Red Storm stayed with it and with 4:39 left, the puck got sent in, again it bounced in Scarborough’s favor and suddenly, it appeared on Grondin’s stick at the far post and at 10:40 p.m., he steered it past Curtis and in to give the Red Storm a 5-4 victory.

“I was just trying to hang out backdoor because I just wanted to be there and the puck came right to me and finished it,” said Grondin. “It was crazy.”

“I saw Wyatt on the backdoor and saw the puck take a bounce and he got on it,” Wirsing said. “I saw him put it in the net. I saw his hands go up and I was elated he could tuck it home.”

“The ice here is hot,” said Robinson. “It’s really bouncy. When you scramble in front like that, sticks are flying and bodies are flying and pucks are bouncing. He just got it and tucked it in.”

The goal set off a jubilant celebration.

Scarborough celebrates in front of its student section after Grondin’s game-winning tally. Hoffer photo.

“It feels amazing,’ said Grondin. “It’s great to be here as a freshman. It’s great to play with so many great players. We’re the underdogs, but we’ve been giving our all. Jack Matthews lost in states a couple years ago and got us going in the locker room. He told us to give 100 percent. That stuck with me.”

“It was fun,” said Weed. “It was a great experience. As soon as we got into overtime, I knew we’d win it. I’m not sure there was much of a difference. That’s a very good team over there. Some very talented hockey players. All-around great athletes. Props to their goalie too. He saved them on multiple occasions.”

“We told the guys to settle down that we’re still in it,” Wirsing added. “We just needed one to get back in it, then we got momentum. In overtime, I just told the guys to breathe. We knew we’d do what we had to do to win the game. We had really positive energy. We were willing to lay it all out there to go home with a victory. South Portland’s a very good team, with some very good players.”

Scarborough got 26 saves from Weed, who was exceptional in overtime.

“Just some of the saves I had, I can’t even take the credit because my defense helped me,” Weed said. “I was a little scared, but I just knew I was playing hockey with the boys. It’s just a bigger rink. My good friend, Peter O’Brien, was the goalie two years ago when we went to states and I was his back-up last year and he taught me so much.”

“I’m very confident in Keegan,” Wirsing said. “He was very poised tonight. He made big saves when he needed to. He bailed us out when we were tired in those overtimes.”

Heartbreak city

SP/Freeport/Waynflete had a 30-23 shots advantage and got 18 saves from Curtis, but ultimately fell agonizingly shy of a first-ever trip to the state game.

“It was kind of a roller-coaster season,” Robinson said. “We came out strong, had a lapse in the middle, then finished strong and battled through the playoffs. We battled through this game. I’m really proud of how the guys responded. I can’t look at the team and say we didn’t leave it all out there. I can’t fault the effort and heart from the puck drop until the end.

“We have a lot of heart. That’s the lesson to be learned out of this game is to take that with you through life. Things get bad sometimes, but don’t quit, lean on your friends, your teammates and your family and have faith in yourself and keep going. We had chances. It just didn’t happen. I told the guys not to hang their heads. When you leave it all out there, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I told them I’m proud of them and happy to be their coach. It’s a great group of guys.”

The majority of this year’s squad will be back next season, when perhaps SP/Freeport/Waynflete will take that final step.

“We’re still in good shape,” said Robinson. “We have a good squad coming back. We lose some key pieces, but we have a solid core for sure. It’s something to look forward to.”

Coronation?

Scarborough will seek its third championship Saturday in its sixth all-time state final appearance. The Red Storm beat Brewer, 5-2, to win Class B in 1995, then lost, 5-3, to Winslow a year later.

In Class A, Scarborough got to the final game in 2015 and edged St. Dom’s, 2-1, on Sean McGovern’s goal in the second overtime. The next year, the Red Storm lost to Lewiston in the state game, 2-1, and two years ago, in the most recently contested state final, Scarborough fell to Lewiston again, this time in double-overtime, 2-1.

Scarborough lost twice to Thornton Academy this winter, 6-0 at home back on Dec. 30 and 2-1 in Biddeford on Feb. 2. The Red Storm have taken three of four prior playoff encounters, with a 7-1 victory in the 2014 Western A semifinals the most recent.

The Golden Trojans upset top-ranked Edward Little, 2-1, in their state semifinal Tuesday, so Saturday’s contest figures to be another hard-fought affair, but Scarborough is hopeful it will finish the job it started two years ago.

“It’s going to be huge,” Grondin said. “I’m super-psyched. We have some good momentum going. If we keep that up, we can keep (winning).”

“We’re well-coached and Sam’s a great captain who leads us,” Weed said. “We’re a very strong team together. I don’t think we’d make it this far without that. TA looked very good tonight. If we get scored on, we have to fire back like we did tonight. We’ll try to finish it off.”

“I’m just happy to be able to play again on Saturday,” Wirsing added. “The kids have bought in and it’s shown by us getting an opportunity to play for a state championship. TA is a very good team. They move the puck well. Gage (Tarbox-Belanger) has been a very solid goaltender for them. We’ve got to make sure we take advantage of the opportunities they give us. We’ve had a couple tough games with them. We know it will take a huge effort to come out with a ‘W.’ We get to show up to the rink a couple more days and I couldn’t be more excited to do it. I’m having the time of my life.”

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