PORTLAND—From the seventh seed to seventh heaven.
And from a relative unknown to an absolute legend.
PREVIOUS STATE GAME RESULTS
1995 Class B
Scarborough 5 Brewer 2
1996 Class B
Winslow 5 Scarborough 3
2015 Class A
Scarborough 2 St. Dom’s 1 (2 OT)
2016 Class A
Lewiston 2 Scarborough 1
2020 Class A
Lewiston 2 Scarborough 1 (2 OT)
2011 Class A
Thornton Academy 4 Lewiston 3 (2 OT)
2012 Class A
Thornton Academy 5 St. Dom’s 1
Such is the story of freshman Wyatt Grondin and the Scarborough boys’ hockey team, which capped an improbable run through the Class A playoffs with a breathtaking double-overtime win over rival Thornton Academy in the state final Saturday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena.
The seventh-ranked Red Storm, who barely finished above .500 during the regular season, weren’t expected to do much in the playoffs, but thanks in large part to Grondin, who cemented his place in program lore, Scarborough finished on the ultimate high note.
The Red Storm started fast, taking a 1-0 lead less than three minutes in, as junior Will Fallona scored on a rebound.
Scarborough then held that lead for a long, long time, as junior goalie Keegan Weed turned aside every shot he faced.
But with just 5:42 to play in regulation, the fifth-seeded Golden Trojans tied it up, as junior Evan Beaudette finally solved Weed, and the game would go to overtime.
Thornton Academy dominated the first eight-minute, “sudden victory” OT session, but couldn’t get the puck past Weed and the game would go to a second overtime, where at last, a champion was crowned.
Just over three minutes in, Grondin, who had already scored playoff game-winning goals in two other games, redirected a shot from senior standout Sam Rumelhart, which got past stellar Golden Trojans’ senior goalie Gage Tarbox-Belanger, to give the Red Storm a 2-1 victory.
Scarborough won its third championship, its first since 2015, capped its season with a record of 13-8-1 and ended Thornton Academy’s fine campaign at 15-6.
And a star is born.
“It’s amazing,” Grondin said. “I’m just so happy to be here and win it for the seniors who lost (in the state final) two years ago. This year’s been so amazing. An amazing team. I’m so happy to play here.”
“It’s unbelievable,” added Scarborough first-year coach Eric Wirsing. “We caught lightning in a bottle at the right time. It’s a credit to these kids.”
Not many fans or pundits expected this state game matchup, but Scarborough and Thornton Academy saved their best hockey for the month of March and as a result, found themselves the last two teams standing.
The Red Storm took some time to hit their stride under Wirsing, starting the season 2-3 and sitting just 5-4 and 8-7 before finishing the regular season with a 6-2 home loss to Falmouth to wind up 9-8-1, relegating them to seventh in the Class A standings.
Scarborough then roared to life in the playoffs, winning games in dramatic fashion.
First, the Red Storm outlasted No. 10 Portland/Deering’s four-goal rally in the preliminary round, winning, 6-5, on Grondin’s overtime goal. In the quarterfinals, Scarborough made the trip north to second-ranked Bangor and behind a hat trick from Rumelhart, advanced, 4-2. Tuesday, in the state semifinals, the Red Storm were down, 3-1, early in the third period to No. 3 South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete before rallying for a 5-4 win, as again, Grondin played the hero in the second-overtime.
“We just changed our mentality and gave it our all to turn it around,” Grondin said. “Coach played with the lines a little bit and everybody gave 100 percent on and off the ice.”
“I talked to Sam right before the playoffs and I said, ‘I know you want to win and you have to send that message to everyone,'” Wirsing said. “He had that look in his eye and just said, ‘Yes, Coach,’ and I knew we had something to build on.”
Thornton Academy, meanwhile, started 8-2, only losing twice by a goal to Falmouth. The Golden Trojans also suffered one-goal losses to Edward Little and Windham and lost by three to Lake Region, but finished 13-5 and fifth in Class A.
Thornton Academy handled No. 12 Mt. Ararat/Morse, 3-1, in the preliminary round, edged No. 4 Falmouth, 2-1, in the quarterfinals, then upset top-ranked Edward Little, 2-1, in Tuesday’s semifinal round.
The Golden Trojans beat the Red Storm twice this year, 6-0 Dec. 30 in Gorham and 2-1 Feb. 2 in Biddeford.
Scarborough was 3-1 in previous playoff meetings with Thornton Academy, prevailing in the 2006 Western A quarterfinals (6-4), the 2008 Western A preliminary round (6-3) and the 2014 Western A semifinals (7-1) and falling in the 2011 Western A quarterfinals (6-0).
Saturday, the Red Storm looked for their third championship (see sidebar), while the Golden Trojans were going for their third as well and first since 2012.
And more than 45 minutes would be necessary to settle matters.
Scarborough came out sizzling, testing Tarbox-Belanger early, but he saved shots from senior Jack Matthews, Rumelhart and junior Jordan Sheppard.
But with 12:03 to go in the first, Tarbox-Belanger couldn’t keep the puck out of the net, as he saved a Rumelhart shot, but Fallona was there to finish the rebound and the Red Storm had first blood.
“That start was huge,” Rumelhart said. “(Tarbox-Belanger’s) unbelievable. We knew if we scored first, we’d have momentum.”
Scarborough kept the pressure on and hoped to add to its lead, but Tarbox-Belanger denied Fallona and Rumelhart hit the side of the net.
It took nearly 10 minutes for Thornton Academy to register a shot on goal and it was a nice look off the stick of Beaudette, who forced Weed to make a kick save.
That awakened the Golden Trojans, who got good bids from senior Alex St. John, Beaudette and junior Heath McLean, but Weed stopped them all.
While shots wound up even in the first 15 minutes at seven apiece, the Red Storm held the lead heading to the second period.
Where again, Scarborough came out strong, but Tarbox-Belanger robbed Fallona in front, denied junior Daemon Bobbin, then stopped a shot from Matthews.
Thornton Academy then looked for the equalizer, but Weed prevented a long shot from McLean, twice robbed St. John, then made a gorgeous pad save on a Beaudette bid with 2 minutes to go.
Late in the period, senior Colby Bilodeau and St. John tried to tie it, but Weed saved those shots too, making him a perfect 17-of-17 to that point, and the Red Storm held a 1-0 lead when the third period commenced.
And they would hold on for several minutes more before at last, the Golden Trojans tied the score.
Early in the third, Weed had to make a glove save on a St. John blast after a turnover.
Then, after Tarbox-Belanger kept the deficit at one by denying Rumelhart on a rush, junior Thomas Hassett after he weaved through the defense and Rumelhart again, Thornton Academy went back on the attack.
And with 5:42 left in regulation, the Golden Trojans drew even, as off a faceoff, Bilodeau had a shot saved by Weed, but Weed could do nothing with Beaudette’s rebound which found the net and tied the game, 1-1.
“We were tight in the first period and from the second period on, we established our game,” said Thornton Academy coach Jamie Gagnon. “We played so much better.”
Undaunted, Scarborough went right back on the attack and after Rumelhart missed just wide, the Red Storm went on the game’s lone power play, but Tarbox-Belanger denied Matthews and Fallona to keep the score tied.
After a turnover, Red Storm sophomore Olin Pedersen tried to give his team the lead back, but Tarbox-Belanger stopped him cold and with 3:04 remaining, both Bobbin and Matthews (on a rebound) were stymied by Tarbox-Belanger.
Thornton Academy then nearly won it late in regulation, as junior Kyle Lesieur raced into the zone, but lost the puck at the last second.
That would be it for chances and the clock ticked down to zero, sending the contest to overtime.
High school hockey overtimes consist of eight minutes with the first team to score winning the game, but despite the Golden Trojans dominating the period, the game would continue on.
Just five seconds into OT, off the faceoff, St. John skated in and tried to win it, but his blast was saved by Weed.
St. John then shot wide, Lesieur had a shot saved with the rebound cleared, then St. John missed wide after a turnover.
Thornton Academy kept the pressure on, but McLean, St. John (twice) and junior Shane Bergeron were all turned away by Weed.
The Red Storm’s best chance came with 20 seconds to go, but Matthews missed wide and the teams left the ice so it could be resurfaced prior to the start of the second overtime.
And there, Scarborough finally put it away.
As was the case in the first OT, the Golden Trojans came out buzzing, looking to end it quickly, but St. John missed high and freshman Gavin Pellerin hit the side netting.
And then, the Red Storm got possession of the puck and went on the attack.
First, Matthews missed just high, but after a scrum along the side boards, the puck came to Rumelhart who fired a shot.
The puck was going to go wide, but Grondin almost nonchalantly stuck out his stick, redirected the shot and before Tarbox-Belanger could react, the puck was past him and in the net.
“I saw the shot going wide and I deflected it on net and it was a lucky shot,” Grondin said. “It was crazy when it went in. So fun.”
“The puck went off Wyatt’s stick and right into the five-hole,” Rumelhart said. “I heard it go into the net and it was just awesome. Wyatt’s always in the right spot. He’s been able to finish. I’m so happy for him.”
“The kid’s a machine,” Weed said, of Grondin. “He’s only a freshman, but we have so much faith in him. He’s always in the right place and the right time. He’s helped the team so much.”
“We’ve talked a lot about getting shots through,” Wirsing added. “I saw the D move a little bit and I saw Wyatt sitting there by himself. He knows how to find empty spaces and get the puck in the net. He’s just a really smart hockey player who understands the game.”
At 5:49 p.m., Scarborough rushed the ice to celebrate its exhilarating 2-1 victory.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Weed said. “I’m so excited. It’s my first state championship and I wanted to win with this team so badly. I saw the puck go in and I wanted to celebrate and I took my helmet off. It was a great time.”
“It feels unbelievable,” said Rumelhart. “We just came together. To pull it together and do this is just great. We knew going into the second overtime that the game was going to end there. This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. They were so supportive. Celebrating with them is awesome. The whole town was behind us. There were people outside Romeo’s (restaurant) cheering us on when we drove here today.”
“That first goal gave us so much momentum, then they got momentum, but we held up pretty well,” Grondin said. “We didn’t let the pressure affect us.”
“I saw the puck go in and it was unreal, an amazing moment for these kids,” Wirsing added. “I feel fortunate to be a part of this program, to have this group of kids who throughout the year believed in what we wanted to accomplish. I couldn’t be more thankful for this staff, to have two other coaches (Bill Guite and Jacob Strong) who were on the same page and wanted to accomplish the same thing. To have three OT winners, two double-OT winners back-to-back, I feel very grateful.
“They came out really hard in OT, but we blocked some shots. We did little things to help us get to the point where we could walk away with a victory. The message going into the second overtime was we had to do the little things and it will be worth it if we puled it out. They tied it up and they had a lot of momentum and confidence. They forced us to be uncomfortable for a bit. They felt the momentum in OT. We benefited from the resurfacing where we could regroup and get some rest and get our heads back to where they needed to be.”
Weed was sensational stopping 27 of the 28 shots he faced.
“My mindset coming in was to play the best game possible for my team,” Weed said.
“Keegan was unbelievable,’ Rumelhart said. “He played the best game of his life tonight and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
“Keegan made some huge saves for us,” Wirsing added. “He was fantastic. Even on their goal, he made the initial save. Even when he didn’t see the puck, he was really well positioned.”
The Red Storm went 0-for-1 on the power play and didn’t take a single penalty in over 56 minutes of breathtaking action.
“We eliminated penalties well,” said Weed. “We didn’t have any today and that’s huge for our team.”
Agony of defeat
For Thornton Academy, Tarbox-Belanger lived up to billing, making 30 saves, but ultimately, the Golden Trojans went home unhappy.
“We got in a hole early and their goaltender played really well and made big saves at critical times, then we fought back and we played well in overtime until that last shot,” Gagnon said. “In overtime, it’s going to be a tip or deflection. Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong side. Scarborough’s a good team and it was a good game. We expected it and at the end of the day, we came up just a goal short. Any one of those shots could have dropped like theirs did, but they didn’t.
“These games end fast and the finality is challenging for the guys now. I thanked the seniors for laying a foundation for our program going forward. The way they played and the way they led, I couldn’t ask for anything more. The seniors set the expectations for years to come and regenerated fan support. We hope this is a springboard going forward for us and we’ll see what happens next year.”
Back for more
Scarborough will be hard-hit by graduation, as eight seniors depart, with Rumelhart leaving the biggest void.
“Nobody can replace the seniors on this team,” Weed said. “Sam is incredible. The other captains are incredible. They all deserve this. They worked so hard. Next year, I know they’ll be cheering for us.”
“I’ve learned so much from the seniors, from Sam especially,” Grondin said.
The Red Storm will return an abundance of talent, however, including a big-time, big-game goalie and a sophomore-to-be with magic in his stick, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make another memorable run when the 2023 calendar flips to March.
“We’re losing a lot of good talent, so we’ll have to step it up,” Grondin said. “It would crazy to win again.”
“I’m going to enjoy the moment right now and I’ll worry about next season when summertime comes,” Wirsing said.