PORTLAND—This is the point of the girls’ hockey season where teams that believe they’re legitimate championship contenders begin to separate themselves.

The Yarmouth/Freeport/Gray-New Gloucester co-op team feels it’s on the brink of doing something special and Saturday afternoon at William B. Troubh Ice Arena, it began a crucial closing stretch with an impressive victory.

Facing the host Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland co-op squad, Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG took a quick 1-0 lead when senior standout Michelle Robichaud went coast to coast for a goal. Thanks to a clutch save from senior goalie Hannah Williams, that lead held up through the first period.

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG extended its lead early in the second, when sophomore stick-wizard Katie Clemmer finished unassisted. After Capeflete got on the board on a rebound goal from senior Kathryn Clark, senior Emily Johnson converted after a turnover to give Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG a 3-1 lead heading for the third period.

There, the visitors ended all doubt as junior Keeley Arnold, Johnson and junior Colleen Sullivan all tickled the twine to put it away and Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG went on to a 6-1 victory.

Johnson led the way with two goals, five different girls tickled the twine and Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG improved to 7-5-1 and dropped Capeflete to 7-7 in the process.

“It was a great team effort,” said Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG coach Jeff Haley. “We knew Capeflete was aggressive. They have quality players. We talked between the second and third periods about maintaining pressure and good things would happen and they did.”

Two hopefuls

Both teams enjoyed breakthrough seasons a year ago and hoped to take the next step to the upper echelon this winter. They’ve each won their share of games this season.

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG opened with a 9-0 home win over Brunswick, then lost at home to Falmouth, 5-1. Yarmouth/Freeport/Gray-New Gloucester then blanked host Brunswick (10-0) and visiting Winslow (9-0), but lost at Lewiston (7-0), dropped a close one at Edward Little/Leavitt (2-1) and let an early lead slip away in a 5-2 home loss to Greely. Yarmouth/Freeport finally got back in the win column with a 6-1 victory over visiting St. Dom’s, then earned its signature victory, 3-0, at Falmouth. Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG started the new year with a tough 1-0 home loss to EL/Leavitt, then settled for a 1-1 tie at Biddeford, before handling host Mt. Ararat last Saturday, 7-0.

Capeflete opened by downing Portland/Deering (6-0) and Gorham/Bonny Eagle (7-1), then lost to Falmouth (3-2), defending state champion Scarborough (2-1, in overtime) and to EL/Leavitt (5-3). After getting back in the win column with a 3-0 win at Cheverus, Capeflete prevailed at York (2-1). After losing at home to Falmouth (4-0), the new year began with a 3-2 victory at Biddeford. After losing at home to Greely (6-2), Capeflete won at Portland/Deering (6-0) and handled visiting Cheverus (4-0), but Wednesday, it dropped a close 4-3 home decision to Gorham/Bonny Eagle.

The teams haven’t played much since the Maine Principals’ Association began sanctioning girls’ hockey in 2008-09. Two years ago, they settled for a 2-2 tie in Yarmouth. Last winter, Yarmouth/Freeport (as it was then known) won twice, 5-1 in Portland and 3-1 in Yarmouth.

Saturday, Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG never trailed and eventually pulled away.

The visitors went on the power play with 11:10 to go in the first period and 36 seconds later, had the lead for good.

Robichaud picked up the puck in the defensive zone, skated up ice, eluded a defender, then went one-on-one with Capeflete freshman goalie Abby Joy and poked the puck through the goalie’s legs for a 1-0 advantage.

“It was huge because I knew if we were going to win, we had to score right away,” said Robichaud. “It set the tempo that we were here to win.”

Capeflete almost answered seconds later, when the always-dangerous Clark broke free, but Williams stopped her cold.

“If it wasn’t for that breakaway save by Hannah, it’s a 1-1 game and it’s a whole different story,” Haley said. “That’s our senior leadership.”

Joy impressed as well later in the first period, first denying junior Jenny Holmquist, then robbing Clemmer to preserve the one-goal deficit.

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG had a 13-3 shots advantage in the first 15 minutes, but Joy’s nine saves kept things interesting.

The visitors doubled their lead with 13:27 to play in the second period when Clemmer got another chance to go one-and-one with Joy and this time she buried the puck for a 2-0 lead.

“Katie played a big role today, like usual,” Haley said. “She’s a leader on this team.”

Capeflete then got a break as first Johnson, then Clemmer were sent to the penalty box, creating a 5-on-3 opportunity and with 11:07 left in the second, Clark poked home a rebound to cut the deficit in half. Clark paid a price for the goal as she was slammed into the crossbar on the play.

After Arnold just missed a goal (she hit the crossbar), Johnson scored her first goal with 7:34 to go in the second. After a Capeflete turnover, Clemmer grabbed the puck and fed Johnson, who made it 3-1.

Johnson almost made it 4-1 as time wound down in the frame, but Joy made her 18th save to that point.

During the second period intermission, Capeflete knew it was very much in the game. Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG was aware of that as well and it set out to end all doubt.

After Capeflete sophomore Hannah Bosworth shot wide on a breakaway opportunity which could have made things very interesting, Arnold beat Joy through the five-hole (Sullivan and Clemmer were given assists) and the lead was 4-1 with 8:31 to go.

The visitors then ended all doubt when Johnson (from Holmquist) scored with 7:25 remaining.

A Sullivan goal, on a rebound of a Clemmer shot, inside of the final minute produced the 6-1 final score.

“I think we like to play on the road,” Clemmer said. “We talked about having possession and instead of taking as many shots, we just needed to pass the puck around.”

Johnson scored twice and credited a line change for her success.

“Michelle and I played together the past three years,” Johnson said. “This year, I’ve struggled without her. Having her back on my line was a huge help. She always knows where to be. We’ve been working a lot on our power play. I always look for Michelle and Katie. I think we started off inconsistent, but ever since the Falmouth win, we’ve picked it way up.”

“They’ve done it for three years,” Haley said, of Johnson and Robichaud. “With players out sick, I had to do some juggling. The girls adapted.”

Clemmer had one goal and three assists, but she could have had four or five goals, were it not for Joy’s heroics.

“It was kind of frustrating,” Clemmer said. “I got robbed a few times. I was getting really tired with just two lines.”

Robichaud had the one goal, but may have made a bigger impact on defense, as she consistently got back to prevent Bosworth and Clark from having breakaway opportunities.

“I love playing defense,” Robichaud said. “It’s what I work on. I always know I’ll get back. It’s just what I like to do.”

“That’s Michelle,” said Haley. “She puts the team on her back when she needs to. She knows her role. She jumped back to pressure on defense.”

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG finished with a 39-9 shots advantage (31-7 on frame). Williams made six saves, while Joy stopped 25 shots for the hosts.

“(Abby) played a very good game,” Capeflete coach Bob Mills said. “We’re trying to give her looks heading into the playoffs.”

“Their goalie made some outstanding saves,” Haley said. “This could have been a double digit score for us.”

Mills tipped his cap after the loss.

“Yarmouth’s a good team,” he said. “They played very well. They skate well. Katie Clemmer’s a very solid player. They move the puck well. We’re battling illness. We have a couple players out and that really impacts us. If we only have two lines, it’s exhausting. The wheels just fell off in the third period. We were tired and after they scored the fourth or fifth goal, we just stopped moving our feet.”

Finishing kick

Both teams hope to move up from their current spots in the Heal Points standings, but both face a tough final two weeks.

Capeflete (fourth in the West Region) is at Edward Little/Leavitt Monday, then plays at Scarborough Saturday. Capeflete closes the regular season with home games versus York and Biddeford.

“Biddeford and York are big games for us, because we’ve already beaten them each once and if we beat them again, they won’t pass us in the Heals,” said Mills. “I’m feeling confident we’ll be a playoff team and we’ll be healthy. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG (fourth in the East) has another key test Monday, when it goes to Greely. Wednesday brings a trip to St. Dom’s and Saturday, it hosts powerhouse Lewiston. The regular season concludes with a trip to Winslow and a home game versus Mt. Ararat.

“We’re getting a lot stronger,” Robichaud said. “We’re crashing the net better. We’re picking it up.”

“We have three big games coming up,” said Haley. “We have to maintain this intensity to battle in the playoffs. Our goal is to go deep.”

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

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG senior Michelle Robichaud pokes the puck past Capeflete freshman goalie Abby Joy for the game’s first goal.

Capeflete senior standout Kathryn Clark goes flying into the goal along with the puck after scoring in the second period.

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG sophomore Katie Clemmer is stymied by Capeflete sophomore Kate Ginder.

Capeflete sophomore Laura Baginski brings the puck up the ice.

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG senior Katie Brown and Capeflete freshman goalie Abby Joy keep their eye on the puck.

Capeflete freshman goalie Abby Joy denies Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG sophomore Katie Clemmer.

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG senior goalie Hannah Williams makes one of her six saves.

Capeflete freshman goalie Abby Joy prepares to sweep away a loose puck before Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG senior Michelle Robichaud can pounce on it.

Previous Cape Elizabeth-Yarmouth results

Yarmouth/Freeport 5 @ Capeflete 1
@ Yarmouth/Freeport 3 Capeflete 1

@ Yarmouth 2 Capeflete 2 (tie)

Sidebar Elements

Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG celebrates one of its six goals during Saturday’s 6-1 win at Capeflete.

Ben McCanna photos.

More photos below.