Falmouth vs. Scarborough.
The Western Class A regular-season boys’ hockey title always seemed destined to come down to those two teams. And it will, at 7 p.m. Thursday in Falmouth.
But what a wild ride it’s been. Just in the past week, Biddeford knocked off Scarborough, then lost in overtime to Cheverus. Scarborough rebounded to beat Thornton Academy on the same night Falmouth handed Eastern power Lewiston a 6-1 setback.
Scarborough (11-4-1) won the first meeting against Falmouth (12-5) but that was in the opening week of the season, and the defending state champion Yachtsmen appear to have that hunger in their eyes again as the playoffs loom.
“In terms of team chemistry, it’s very similar to last year. We seem to have them buying in this year just like we did last year,” Falmouth Coach Deron Barton said.
“We don’t have the same skill level and the same experience level that we did last year, but we have the same work ethic.”
The playoffs begin Saturday. In Eastern A, Bangor and Lewiston have separated from the pack, although St. Dominic of Auburn should never be counted out.
In Western B, Gorham figures to get the top seed, with two-time defending state titlist Greely a threat even with a .500 record.
Eastern B holds no mystery. Undefeated Messalonskee has proved to be not only the class of that division but may be on a mission to prove it’s the best team in the state regardless of class.
But Western A is a tangled web.
Beyond Falmouth and Scarborough, Biddeford and Cheverus have shown they can play with anybody, although consistency is an issue.
Portland/Deering has gotten hot in the final weeks of the season. And no one wants to face Thornton Academy in the quarterfinals, even with a 6-10-1 record.
“You can’t put your finger on who’s a clear-cut favorite,” Scarborough Coach Norm Gagne said.
“If I look at our club, I was feeling so much better after the first five or six games that we played and seeing the other teams and saying, ‘Hey, we could be the team that wins the West.’ And then I see the way we played the other night (a 4-1 loss to Biddeford) and gee, I’m not so sure now.”
First up is the rematch with Falmouth, with the top seed and bragging rights on the line. Last year Scarborough swept the Yachtsmen in the regular season only to come up short in the playoffs.
So perhaps it doesn’t mean all that much. Except that it does to the players.
“Everybody likes to finish No. 1. Of course it’s a goal,” Barton said. “As far as we’re concerned it’s playoff hockey. We’re treating the game like, instead of a four-game streak to the state title, it’s five. That’s the mentality we have and that’s the mentality the kids have. First place is important but it’s not the ultimate goal.”
Gagne hopes his team learned its lesson from what he termed a lackluster effort against Biddeford.
“I told the kids, you can be the best but you’ve got to play like the best. That’s why you see upsets all the time,” Gagne said.
“It’s really about winning one-on-one battles. Biddeford totally outworked us and that bothers me. I’m telling you, that game killed me. I went home and told my wife, ‘Am I getting too old for this?’ I think it’s so simple and the players make it look so hard.”
Scarborough has alternated goaltenders most of the season but Gagne has settled on Ben Bragg for the postseason.
He likes Bragg’s athleticism and consistency.
Falmouth’s strength is its defense, led by superior goalie Dane Pauls.
“He’s one of the most experienced goaltenders in the state and he’s playing that way,” Barton said. “He’s always giving us a chance to win, making big plays when he has to.”
It helps to have Jake Grade and a strong defense in front of him.
Even freshman Reece Armitage has proved to be a steadying force on the Yachtsmen blue line.
And Falmouth’s third offensive line – they prefer to be called the “yellow line” – anchored by Brandon Boehm has excelled at defense.
“Their job is to not get scored against and give the other two lines a break. And they’ve been a godsend for us this year,” Barton said.
So that’s the puzzle Scarborough and the rest of the Western A teams will have to solve. The road to a state championship runs through Falmouth, as it should.
BIDDEFORD COULDN’T celebrate its big victory over Scarborough long.
Two nights later the Tigers coughed up a late 4-2 lead and were beaten 5-4 by Cheverus in overtime.
Still, Coach Rich Reissfelder is happy with the progress of a young team. Two freshmen are key to its power play, for example.
“They understand what to do with the puck,” Reissfelder said.
“I think the older guys, the leadership, has been great, really just doing a great job of being patient with them. They talk all the time on the bench, hanging out in the locker room after practice. It’s great to be able to hear that from teammates rather than just coaches all the time.”
Reissfelder’s roster contains 14 underclassmen but the Tigers have shown they can bite anyone who overlooks them. Don’t bet against them.
“Literally, it’s anybody’s state championship right now,” Reissfelder said. “It’s wide open. It comes down to who shows up.
“It’s dreadful for me but it’s fun for everybody else, apparently.”
CHEVERUS IS ANOTHER TEAM with a track record of strong performances, but also some staggering losses. At 9-7-1, Coach Dan Lucas at least knows he has senior goaltender Jason Blier to fall back on.
“He’s starting to realize that things, from a high school perspective, are drawing to a close,” Lucas said. “He’s a competitive kid, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to go out without giving his best effort.”
But Cheverus has two big question marks heading into the postseason.
Forward Conor Ryle and defenseman James Kane are both injured, and their status is uncertain.
“We were chasing a lot, mixing up lines and trying to get everything we could out of them,” Lucas said of the victory against Biddeford.
“In the end it paid off. Going forward we’ve got to figure out how to keep the glue on everything.”
Lucas said the team that avoids careless penalties stands the best chance of advancing to the state championship game. But in any event, the Western A playoffs are going to make for good viewing.
“We should get a lot of people out watching. I think it’s going to be really good hockey,” Lucas said.
“Everyone is going to be at peak level because they all think they have a chance.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: