PORTLAND—A playoff rematch turned into a postseason-caliiber heartstopper Saturday evening at Portland Ice Arena.

A little less than a year after upsetting them in the Western Class B quarterfinals, the Cape Elizabeth boys’ hockey team welcomed the Yarmouth Clippers in a game that was pivotal for Heal Points, as well as playoff positioning, and both teams put on a show.

Early on, the Capers’ bacon was saved by senior goalie Kevin Hare, who turned away a couple quick shots, then, with his team playing man-down for nearly seven minutes, didn’t allow a single puck to get past him, allowing Cape Elizabeth to escape the first period in a scoreless tie.

The Capers went on the power play early in the second and as fate would have it, had no problem converting, as junior Cole Caswell scored to break the ice. After the Clippers pulled even on a goal from freshman sensation Bobby Murray, it looked like the period would end deadlocked, but with 48.2 seconds left, Cape Elizabeth’s junior scoring machine Curtis Guimond, struck and the hosts had the lead entering what would prove to be a frenetic and wildly entertaining final stanza.

There, just 12 seconds in, Yarmouth tied things up as sophomore Patrick Grant lit the lamp, but then, Cape Elizabeth junior Jack Drinan singlehandedly took over, scoring a hat trick in a mindboggling 4 minute, 29 second span to seemingly send the Capers on their way to an easy victory.

Not so fast.

Back roared the explosive Clippers behind tallies from junior Tyler Hall and Murray and when senior Isaak Dearden had a breakaway seconds later, a tie score looked certain, but Hare stepped up huge one final time, made the save and after a few anxious moments down the stretch, Cape Elizabeth held on for a 5-4 triumph.

The Capers, winners of four of their last five games, improved to 6-9-1 and dropped Yarmouth to 7-5-1 in the process.

“That was exhilarating,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Matt Buotte. “We’ve been in a lot of one-goal games this year. The last minute of the game always seems to take an hour. At the beginning of the season, we found ways to lose those games. Tonight, we found a way to win. We’re growing up. We have a lot of young guys and tonight, we used lessons we learned when we blew those other games.”

Wide open league

With two-time defending Class B state champion Greely appearing more mortal than in recent seasons and with the top contenders regularly knocking each other off, it appears the region might be captured by the squad which is hottest at the end.

Both Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth have been up and down, but have also shown signs of being that team that could catch lightning in a bottle come March.

The Capers opened with a 10-2 loss at Falmouth and a 3-2 setback at York, before tying host Greely (4-4). Another frustrating loss followed, 3-2, at Cheverus, then Cape Elizabeth fell, in overtime to visiting Brunswick (3-2) and again in OT to visiting Camden Hills (7-6) to drop to 0-5-1. A 3-0 home victory over Noble/Wells got the Capers off the schneid. After a 3-0 loss at Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth downed visiting Portland/Deering (3-2). After another one-goal loss, 3-2, to visiting Kennebunk and a 4-2 setback at Gorham, the Capers won 4-1 games at Gardiner and at home over Kennebunk. After losing overtime again, 3-2, to visiting Leavitt, Cape Elizabeth downed visiting York (12-5) last Saturday, behind a double hat trick (six goals) from Guimond.

The Clippers opened with a 5-3 loss at Gorham, then beat visiting Brunswick in overtime, 5-4. After a 4-0 home win over Gardiner and a 1-1 tie at Kennebunk, Yarmouth opened the 2014 portion of the schedule with a 9-3 romp over host York before losing at home to Edward Little, 5-4. The Clippers got back on track with a 5-4 home win over Greely, then lost at Cheverus, 7-3, but turned around to win three straight: 4-2 at Portland/Deering, 5-0 over visiting Leavitt and 8-1 over visiting Winthrop. Last Saturday, Yarmouth fell at home to reigning Class A champion Falmouth (6-2), then had Wednesday’s scheduled home game against Gorham postponed by snow before prevailing, 10-1, at Westbrook Thursday.

Last winter, the teams tied, 2-2, at Cape Elizabeth and the Clippers won at home, 2-0, but in the quarterfinals, the Capers upset host Yarmouth, 4-3.

Saturday’s game, not surprisingly, produced a one-goal result and the victors couldn’t exhale until the final horn.

The Clippers, looking to avenge last season’s ouster, came out on fire, as Murray shot wide, senior Max Watson was denied by Hare and junior Brian Travers shot just wide all in the first 20 seconds of the game.

With 13:57 to go in the first, Yarmouth began a theme, going on the power play, and Hare became a thorn in the Clippers’ side, initially saving shots from Watson and Grant and after the visitors had a 5-on-3 advantage, denying freshman Bill Jacobs twice, while Murray shot high and junior Connor Lainey missed wide.

If that wasn’t enough, a second after the penalty expired, the Capers were whistled for another and Hare and the penalty kill had to step up again. This time, Dearden had the best look, but Dearden made a glove save.

Seven seconds before the penalty was to expire, Cape Elizabeth went into the penalty box once more, but Murray had a shot saved, Murray shot high, Hare pounced on a loose puck in front and Murray again had a shot saved.

“I got some looks and my teammates had some good shot-blocks,” Hare said. “We do a lot of power play practice and we used all the reps we’ve done. They came in handy. It wasn’t a victory until we finished the game, but coming out 0-0 was big.”

“Kevin made some unbelievable saves to keep us in the game,” Drinan said. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best game I’ve seen him play. If we didn’t have him making all those saves, we could have lost that game easily.”

“Kev was unbelievable tonight,” Buotte added. “What can you say about the kid? He’s paid his dues and worked his butt off to get where he is. He’s a great leader in the locker room. Tonight, he put us on his back.”

Guimond almost put the Capers on top with 5:28 remaining in the first, when he beat a defender, then shot wide.

At the other end, after Dearden shot just wide from blue line and junior Dylan Tureff slipped a defender and went one-on-one, but was stopped cold by Hare.

Senior David Clemmer then had a shot saved and Murray, after taking a pass from Grant, appeared to have Hare beaten, but the goalie somehow got in position to get a piece of the puck and keep it out of the net.

A last second-bid from Caswell was saved by Yarmouth sophomore goalie Victor Wakelin.

The Clippers were frustrated, but not demoralized as they went to the locker room.

“I thought (Hare) played really well,” said Yarmouth coach David St. Pierre. “He kept them in the game with big saves. We were going hard with the pucks to the net. I wouldn’t say that felt like a defeat, because we’ve had some tough first periods, but I give Kevin credit.”

Early in the second period, after a shot from freshman Ben Ekedahl slipped through Wakelin’s pads, but trickled just wide, Cape Elizabeth went on the power play and promptly showed the Clippers how it’s done, as with 12:46 remaining, Caswell buried a rebound of his own shot. Ekedahl was credited with an assist and the Capers had a 1-0 advantage.

Midway through the second, the visitors finally broke through, as Murray rebounded a Grant shot (Watson also got an assist) and the game was tied, 1-1.

Cape Elizabeth then got an emotional lift late in the period, as Guimond broke free, went one-on-one against Wakelin and finished to give the Capers a 2-1 lead to take to the third.

After a relatively defensive struggle, all offensive heck broke loose in the third period.

It started right after Yarmouth won possession off the faceoff and Grant finished passes from Dearden and Murray to tie the game, 2-2.

The Clippers’ Era of Good Feelings lasted exactly a minute, as Cape Elizabeth went on the power play and Drinan began to steal the show.

With 13:30 to play, Caswell put a shot on goal which Wakelin saved, but Drinan was there to bury the rebound and the Capers had the lead for good, 3-2. Guimond also got an assist.

After Watson’s shot from the point snuck through and forced Hare to make a save, Drinan doubled the lead with 9:21 to play, scoring unassisted.

Twenty seconds later, he struck again, completing the natural hat trick in transition, tipping home a shot from freshman Eli Babcock, and Cape Elizabeth was seemingly in command, up, 5-2.

“In the locker room before the third period, I didn’t think I’d played that great,” Drinan said. “I wanted a goal. I went out there got one and had a chance to shoot and had another. Then I tipped one in.”

“Jack’s a great playmaker,” said Buotte. “We needed some goals from him and tonight, he stepped up in a big way. Guys like Jack and Kev wanted the spotlight on them tonight and it was great to see.”

The Yarmouth program is nothing if not proud and sure enough, the Clippers had enough time to rally and make things very interesting.

After Clemmer forced Hare to make a blocker save, Hall (from Lainey) tickled the twine with 6:15 left and Yarmouth had life.

It took only 43 seconds for the visitors to strike again, as Murray finished unassisted and just like that, a safe lead was down to 5-4.

“We have a really good (locker) room,” said St. Pierre. “There’s a lot of character. We have three seniors who great a job leading. There’s no quit. That will serve us well.”

Buotte called timeout to settle his charges, but out of the break, Dearden got free behind the defense and as the crowd rose as one, expecting to see the tying tally, instead they witnessed a goalie at the peak of his powers make another big-time stop, preserving the one-goal lead.

“Goalies have to have a 10-second rule,” said Hare. “You have to put (a goal) out of your head after 10 seconds. I had to make sure I wasn’t too far out. I kept my angles square and tracked the puck as it came in. I was able to get my glove there quickly.”

Yarmouth only had two more good looks, but a shot from sophomore Noah Grondin was saved and in the waning seconds, after Wakelin was pulled, a back-handed bid in traffic from Grant was turned aside by Hare and Guimond cleared the puck all the way down the ice.

A second was put back on the clock, ostensibly enough time for the Clippers to score off a faceoff in the Capers’ zone, but they couldn’t manage to get the puck on net and Cape Elizabeth had survived in an entertaining affair, 5-4.

“It’s always tough when you get a lead,” Hare said. “You can take your foot off the gas. We did a good job battling back after (they made it 5-4). Coach called timeout and we talked about winning battles and getting (the puck) out of the zone.”

“We knew we had to step it up in the third period,” Drinan said. “Yarmouth’s a great team. They showed that at the end of the game. This was a real gut-check win for our team. At the beginning of the year, we had multiple one-goal losses. This game was different. We held strong. It showed we can win almost any game we want.”

“We knew Yarmouth would be ready to go,” Buotte added. “Hockey players have long memories. We knew they didn’t forget about last year. They’re a great team. Maybe we’ll see them again in the playoffs. That would be a lot of fun. This means a lot to us. We needed this game.”

The Capers were outshot, 44-20, but managed to prevail thanks to killing all four of Yarmouth’s power plays and even more due to Hare’s 40 saves.

Cape Elizabeth went 2-for-3 on the power play.

Wakelin made 15 saves for the Clippers, who just couldn’t find a way to pull it out.

“I thought we played well most of the game,” St. Pierre said. “You have to give Cape credit. They went hard at us and made the most of the opportunities they had. That’s a better team than most people give them credit for. They’ve been in a lot of tight games this year. We have to tighten up in our zone. That’s our biggest liability right now. We had some lapses and Cape made the most of them and the next thing you know it, the puck was in the back of the net.”

Finishing strong

Yarmouth (now fourth in the Western Class B Heal Points standings) has a huge showdown at Greely Thursday, goes to Camden Hills Saturday of next week, then closes at home versus York Feb. 19. The Clippers also need to make up the Gorham postponement at some point.

“We’re focused on what we need to do,” said St. Pierre. “We have to pull things together before we make our run and if we don’t, we’ll struggle. There are still a lot of Heal Points out there. We’ll play the three teams ahead of us. That’s an opportunity.”

Cape Elizabeth (sixth in Western B at press time) hosts Gorham next Saturday in another pivotal contest, then closes the regular season Feb. 19 at Maranacook/Winthrop. The Capers are hoping to move up to fourth, which would allow them to host a quarterfinal round playoff game.

“We want to finish as high as we can,” said Buotte. “We’re still chasing a top spot. This will help. We want to keep getting better every day. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making huge strides. If we play our game the way we want to, you never know. It’s very wide open. Anybody can beat anybody. It’s going to be a great postseason if you’re a hockey fan.”

If the playoffs are anything like Saturday night, he’s right.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cape Elizabeth junior Cole Caswell (8) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the game’s first goal, early in the second period.

Cape Elizabeth senior goalie Kevin Hare sprawls to make one of his 40 saves Saturday.

Yarmouth senior David Clemmer eludes Cape Elizabeth sophomore Matt Riggle.

Two of the region’s best players, Cape Elizabeth junior Jack Drinan and Yarmouth senior Max Watson, make acquaintances along the boards.

Cape Elizabeth freshman Ben Ekedahl races up the ice.

Speedy and elusive Yarmouth sophomore Patrick Grant is stymied by Cape Elizabeth freshman Jeb Boeschenstein.

Yarmouth freshman Bill Jacobs pins a Caper along the boards as he chases the puck.

Yarmouth freshman standout Bobby Murray, who scored twice, tries to get around Cape Elizabeth senior Jack Tierney.

Cape Elizabeth sophomore Matt Riggle fires a shot.

Yarmouth senior Max Watson prepares a booming shot.

Sidebar Elements

Junior Jack Drinan (22) joins the rest of the Cape Elizabeth boys’ hockey team in celebrating its palpitating 5-4 win over visiting Yarmouth Saturday night. Drinan had three third period goals to spell the difference.

Jason Veilleux photos.

More photos below.

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