WATERVILLE – In another game at another time, Aaron Saucier would’ve been kept on the bench, the risk of a game suspension because of penalties too much to risk.
But this wasn’t any other game, and an exhausted Waterville hockey team needed its big, junior defenseman on the ice.
“I normally would’ve have pulled him,” Waterville Coach Dennis Martin said. “But we needed him out there.”
Saucier, playing with four penalties when a fifth would’ve triggered an automatic one-game suspension, scored with 36 seconds left in overtime to lift No. 4 Waterville past No. 5 Maranacook/Hall-Dale/Winthrop 3-2 in an Eastern Class A quarterfinal Tuesday night at Alfond Rink.
“I saw an opportunity and I took it,” said Saucier. “I just got lucky enough to be the one to get the shot.”
The No. 4 Purple Panthers (9-9-1) now face the daunting task of playing No. 1 Lewiston (15-1-2) in a regional semifinal Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee. The Blue Devils, who had a bye to the semifinals, defeated Waterville twice in the regular season by a combined 16-2.
MHW finished 11-7-1 and had its season end in the quarterfinals against Waterville for the second straight year.
“We battled,” MHW Coach Andy Dube said. “We gave it everything we had. The guys are really disappointed. It was a good opportunity for our young kids, but tough for the seniors.”
The goal didn’t come without a touch of controversy.
Moments before the game-winner, players on both teams stopped skating, thinking a penalty was coming. By the time they realized play was continuing, Matt Lee hit Saucier in the slot with a well-placed pass.
“None of the refs had their arms in the air so I kept going,” Saucier said. “I got a great pass and put it in.”
“It was stressful,” said MHW senior captain Robbie Clark. “A lot of people thought there was a whistle, and then they put it in.”
The goal capped a wild game in which the Hawks rallied from a 2-1 deficit when Dan Condon scored with three minutes left in regulation.
Tyler Plante, playing in goal for the injured Jon Dale, stopped 36 shots for MHW.
“We proved some people wrong,” MHW senior captain Connor Lacasse said. “We were running them down in the end. I’m proud of this team.”
Tim Locke scored two short-handed goals for Waterville, the second one snapping a 1-1 tie just 21 seconds into the third period.
“We had to go all out,” Locke said. “It was either that or we were done. We wanted to get back to the Colisee and that’s what we did.”
Waterville trailed 1-0 after the first period but tied things up just under six minutes into the second on yet another short-handed goal.
The Panthers pressured the offensive zone before Massey set up Locke in the slot with a nice pass. Locke, who had room and time to shoot, wound up for a slap shot and buried the puck top corner over the blocker side to pull the Panthers even.
“I kind of whiffed on the shot,” Locke said. “But I got the top of (the puck) and got it in.”
The Hawks came in looking to do two things: Weather the anticipated Waterville storm and keep it close. They did that and more, taking a 1-0 lead when Tyler Bryant beat Waterville goalie Cody Thibodeau at the back post just 3:19 into the game.
“It was an unbelievable game,” Dube said. “We had them. We had our chances late.”
Added Martin: “We stepped up. But give (MHW) credit, they played their hearts out.”
Bill Stewart – 623-3811, ext. 515