Yarmouth junior Anders Newberg celebrates his first period goal with classmate Tyler Veilleux. The Clippers edged host Cheverus, 4-3, to stay undefeated.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

Yarmouth sophomore goalie Dan Latham denies a shot by Cheverus junior Sean Walsh.

Yarmouth sophomore Joe Truesdale eludes Cheverus sophomore Marco Giancotti.

Cheverus senior Matt Dilios fires a shot as Yarmouth freshman Sam Marjerison defends.

PORTLAND—What a difference a year makes.

Last winter, Yarmouth’s boys’ hockey team lost its first five games. Even though the Clippers rebounded to post a winning record and make the playoffs, they learned that digging such a hole is never a good idea.

Fast forward to this December where the Clippers are soaring out of the gate and they earned their biggest victory to date in an absolute thriller Thursday night.

Battling Class A South power Cheverus at Troubh Ice Arena, Yarmouth got a first period goal from junior Anders Newberg and had a chance to score more, but failed to convert on three power plays.

Thanks to a strong defense effort and steady goalkeeping from sophomore Dan Latham, the Clippers held that 1-0 lead into the third period where the goals suddenly came fast and furious.

With 11:46 left in regulation, junior Bill Jacobs roofed home a shot which gave Yarmouth a seemingly safe 2-0 advantage, but that proved to be the first of six goals in a dizzying 8 minute, 52 second span.

Cheverus finally came to life with 9:49 to play, when junior Sean Walsh scored on the power play and 77 seconds later, senior Jesse Cyr-Brophy banged home a rebound to tie the score.

With 8:12 left, Clippers senior Patrick Grant put his team back on top, but that advantage only lasted until 5:18 remained, when the Stags tied the score again, this time with senior Luke Trickey doing the honors.

After Yarmouth failed to convert a 5-on-3 power play, it appeared the Clippers might just be stymied, but with 2:54 left in regulation, senior Walter Conrad found the cage and this time, Yarmouth managed to hold the lead and go on to a 4-3 victory.

The Clippers beat the Stags for the first time this century, improved to 4-0 and dropped Cheverus to 2-2 in the process.

“It’s a good confidence builder,” said Yarmouth coach Dave St. Pierre. “Cheverus is a quality team. This gives us a sense we can compete with anybody we get on the ice with. We’ve talked about our compete level all year long. To get tested like that and to come back, I’m really proud of the boys’ effort.” 

Building on last year

Both teams are coming off strong seasons and have even higher hopes for this coming March.

Yarmouth lost in overtime to Gorham in the Western B semifinals last winter and started the new season with home victories over Gardiner (2-0) and Gorham (4-1) before beating host Kennebunk, 5-1.

Cheverus, which made it to the Western A Final a year ago before losing to eventual champion Scarborough, began with a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory over visiting Falmouth, lost at Scarborough (5-0), then bounced back Monday with a 7-1 win at Brunswick.

Last season, the Stags prevailed at Yarmouth, 5-2, marking the third year in a row they beat the Clippers.

Thursday, Yarmouth finally solved Cheverus, but it sure wasn’t easy.

The game’s first goal came at the 7:10 mark and it came courtesy a nice drop pass from Grant which Newberg shot past Stags freshman goalie Jason Halvorsen and into the net for a 1-0 lead.

Yarmouth had six minutes of a man advantage in the first period, but couldn’t generate a single good scoring chance and clung to a 1-0 lead.

Latham was tested in the second period, but he denied Walsh and Trickey and after Halvorsen prevented Conrad from doubling the Clippers’ lead, Latham robbed sophomore Mike Hatch and freshman Riley McCauley on a Stags’ power play, then denied Walsh again as time wound down to allow the visitors to take a 1-0 advantage to the third period.

It was apparent from the second the puck dropped in the third period that Cheverus was bound and determined to tickle the twine and while the Stags would do so three times, Yarmouth was every bit its equal.

After Latham preserved the lead by saving bids from sophomore Jesse Pierce, Trickey, Trickey again and junior Kieran Conley, the Clippers took a 2-0 lead with 11:46 to play.

Yarmouth got a break on the play as the puck bounced out to center ice and Jacobs raced in and beat Halvorsen top shelf.

With 10:27 to go, Newberg was sent to the penalty box for slashing and that gave the Stags the break they needed to finally break through.

With 9:49 remaining, Hatch and McCauley set up Walsh, who beat Latham to cut the deficit to 2-1.

With momentum on its side, Cheverus kept pushing and with 8:32 to go, Cyr-Brophy was able to finish in traffic to make it 2-2.

The Clippers could have buckled at that point, but a mere 20 seconds later, Grant finessed his way in and beat Halvorsen and just like that, Yarmouth was back on top, 3-2.

“We didn’t have a ton of security going into the third period,” Grant said. “Our ability to fight back really shows a lot about the guys in that (locker) room. I just drove the net and got it in.”

With that much time left on the clock, few on hand thought the game would end 3-2 and indeed, there were more fireworks to come.

After the Stags had a goal waved off during a scrum in front of the net, Latham denied seniors Chris Vallee and Garrett Dion, but with 5:18 to go, Trickey got the equalizer (Pierce and sophomore Marco Giancotti were credited with assists) and the scoreboard read, 3-3.

With exactly 5 minutes to play, much to Cheverus’ consternation, McCauley was sent to the box for a contact to the head penalty and compounding matters, Pierce was given a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, meaning the Stags had to play down two men for two minutes.

They would successfully do so, but seconds later, their fate was sealed.

Unlike their previous power plays, the Clippers managed to get good looks, but were frustrated in the process.

First, senior Noah Grondin’s bid was denied by Halvorsen and Jacobs’ rebound shot was also stopped.

Grant then had two shots saved and Conrad had a pair of good looks, but sent them both just wide.

With Cheverus back at even strength, but scrambling to get back in defensive position, Conrad got the puck again (from Grant) and this time, his bid was spot-on, beating Halvorsen for a 4-3 lead with 2:54 remaining.

“t was frustrating,” Conrad said. “They had a very good kill. They were aggressive. I kept shooting and I was finally lucky enough to get a shot on net to go in.”

“We’ve got tremendous leadership on our team this year,” St. Pierre said. “I couldn’t ask for better captains than Patty, Noah and Walter. They drive us. I felt like our power play has struggled a little bit. We tried to get too careful on that 5-on-3 instead of putting pucks on net, but we kept battling.” 

“We got out of it to a certain point, then bingo,” lamented Cheverus coach Dan Lucas. “I told the kids to stay up Conrad on the point. The only time he got free all night was on the power play. He missed the net twice, then made that last one count. Credit to him.”

Yarmouth then had to scratch and claw to hold the lead to the final horn.

The Stags had their chances late, but senior Matt Dilios missed just wide, Pierce sent a backhander wide and Trickey missed wide.

With 38.7 seconds left, St. Pierre took a timeout to settle his team.

“We had some key guys on the ice I wanted to get them a breather and I had to take a timeout to do that,” St. Pierre said.

With 18.3 seconds to go, Conrad was sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Cheverus couldn’t muster a good look, the Clippers cleared the puck and were able to celebrate their hard-earned 4-3 victory.

“We’re just stoked right now,” Conrad said. “We gave our all and when it shows up on the scoreboard, it makes us feel good. We started 0-5 last year and we’re 4-0 right now. It’s a huge turnaround for us. We have momentum.”

“I’m proud how we competed until the very end, kept the puck away from the front of the net and finished the job,” St. Pierre said. “(The Stags) were too talented of a team and had too much offensive skill to be off the board all game. We played really well defensively. They got in front of our net a lot, but we battled and we did what we had to do.”

Latham finished with 34 saves.

Yarmouth was bolstered by a very small, but vociferous student cheering section, which Conrad went out of his way to praise following the win.

“I want to give a shout-out to our fans,” Conrad said. “The ‘YC Ultras.’ It’s important to have a fan base follow us everywhere and support us every minute.”

Cheverus got 20 saves from Halvorsen, but wound up frustrated, to say the least.

“We took too long to get going,” Lucas said. “We were probably guilty of making their goalie look good, hitting him straight in the bread basket. Once we got hungry around the net, that’s when we started scoring. Yarmouth played a good, solid hockey game. Dave had his boys ready. This was a better Yarmouth team than we’ve faced before.”

Every game’s a test

Cheverus has three games remaining before the calendar flips, all of them daunting. After visiting Falmouth Saturday, the Stags go to Biddeford Wednesday and travel to St. Dom’s Monday, Dec. 28.

“I keep telling the guys as long as you wear the ‘C’ on your chest, everyone wants to beat you,” Lucas said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. They’re learning the hard way. It’s not how you start, it’s where you finish. We’ll see what we’ve got.”

Yarmouth is right back in action Monday at Cape Elizabeth as it looks to close the 2015 portion of its schedule with an unblemished record.

“One of our team goals is ending 2015 at 5-0,” Grant said. “We’re taking it a group of games at a time. We got past Cheverus, now we have Cape and we’re looking forward.”

“We talked last year at 0-5 about it only being December and working our way back and now we have to be careful this year because even though we’ve started off better, it is only December,” St. Pierre said. “There’s a long way to go, so we have to get better. We have to tighten up more defensively. We have to stay healthy and keep our compete level up, but other than that, we’re playing well.”

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

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