Friday, March 7, 2014
By Mark Emmert email@example.com
The South Portland boys’ hockey team has 11 skaters and nine victories.
Alex Girsch, Portland-Deering sophomore: The goaltender stopped 19 of 20 shots in a 3-1 victory over Noble/Wells and an 8-0 downing of Marshwood/Traip.
Justin Miles, Bonny Eagle junior: Put up two goals and two assists in a tie against Westbrook, and has 14 goals on the year.
Jake Drinan, Cape Elizabeth junior: Scored three goals in a span of less than 4:30 to lead a 5-4 victory over Yarmouth.
Tucker Buteau, Gorham senior: Scored what proved to be the winning goal in a key 3-2 victory against Camden Hills.
AREA TOP FIVE
1. Scarborough (10-3-1)
2. Falmouth (11-5)
3. Greely (7-5-3)
4. Biddeford (7-6-2)
5. Gorham (11-3)
It’s enough to make Coach Joe Robinson scratch his head and wonder: How did we get here?
“I’m proud of the guys this year, what we’ve done,” Robinson said. “I’m proud of my coaching staff and the things we’ve done to keep them going.”
The road to a 9-5 record started with a handful of players falling by the wayside after the first two days of dryland training. Another quit after the first couple of games to focus on academics.
That meant Robinson has just two forward lines, two defensive pairings and two goaltenders.
Robinson said he didn’t feel his preseason workouts were particularly arduous.
“A lot of high school athletes don’t realize that where you grow is outside of the rink. The games inside the rink, that’s where you showcase what you’ve worked on,” he said.
Fortunately for Robinson, one of his lines includes junior Andrew Whipple, who has 43 points and sets the tone as the team captain.
“He’s a very, very unselfish player. There’s so many times where he could have taken the shot himself but he dishes it off to a teammate,” Robinson said. “Sometimes that teammate might be a freshman and I’m wishing he would have just taken the shot. But it’s paid off.”
Whipple is joined on his line by junior Kyle Halvorsen. Goaltender Shannon Tully is also a junior.
Those returning players, plus some solid participation at the middle school level, have Robinson optimistic about the future for the Red Riots. They have missed the playoffs the past two years, winning two games each season as a Tier 1 team in Western Class A.
Now in Tier 2, they are sitting eighth in the Heal points standings; the top nine make the postseason.
“We really want to just get into the tournament and see what happens,” Robinson said.
“It would mean a lot. The kids are feeling really good, they’re excited. We have four games left and a realistic goal there would be to split. That would make us 11-7, which would be great. That’s a huge improvement from the last couple of years.”
NOBLE-WELLS is another Tier 2 team that can relate to trying to excel with a small roster. Coach Keith St. Cyr has 17 players, although four are goaltenders. The advantage he has is it’s a pretty experienced group and can draw on the memory of winning the first playoff game in program history last winter.
The Knights are 12-3, led by 26 goals from Dean Pratt. They currently project as the fifth seed in the state tournament, though, and that would mean drawing a Tier 1 team in the playoff opener.
“That definitely ups the ante for us,” St. Cyr said. “Any Tier 1 team is going to be tough for us. After our first (playoff) victory last year, we drew Scarborough and boy oh boy, we didn’t see competition like that all season. For our team to play a team like that, your margin of error is very slim.”
Noble-Wells did get a confidence-boosting victory over York on Jan. 29, finding a way to win 9-6 despite twice trailing by three goals.
“It kind of helped them to see who they were, to see that they can come back from adversity,” St. Cyr said.
Still, he’s realistic about the postseason.
“All our teams have good talent but I can’t compete with someone who can throw three lines at us,” St. Cyr said. “We’ll accept making the playoffs as winning a state championship, and anything above that is a bonus.
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