John Tibbetts hashed four goals and led Westbrook to a 9-8, double-OT triumph on the road at neighboring Gorham last Friday, May 20. Tibbetts even notched the sudden-death winner, the goal that ended it all and handed the Blazes a little sweet revenge for their loss to the Rams in last year’s tourney.

“We’re always trying to play better as a team. Four goals don’t mean anything to me, as long as we play as a team and win,” said Tibbetts. 

“Gorham’s the No. 1 team in our league and we needed to beat them,” said Westbrook head coach Pete Lyons. “Last year, we beat them in the regular season, lost to them in the playoffs. These kids remembered that, knew they had to compete.”

Of course, as Tibbetts pointed out, a gritty win never belongs to one player alone, Faceoff man Noah Oliver is a wizard on the X, and secured so many Westbrook possessions, Gorham head coach Dan Soule pointed him out as the primary difference-maker:

“[Oliver] owned us on faceoffs today, and if you don’t win any faceoffs, you’re not going to get any possessions,” said Soule. “Once we had possession, we did okay, we kept up with them.”

Oliver’s faceoff magic showed straight from the start: He won his opening encounter, then dashed upfield with the ball and fired off a pass from the top of the attacking zone to Connor Dougherty, waiting on the side. Dougherty, despite having stumbled to his knees, managed to flip the ball further forward, squarely onto the stick of Grayson Post, who pulled the trigger on a successful shot. In eight short seconds, Westbrook had jumped on top 1-0.

Lyons praised a number of his players, including Oliver, Dougherty, Post and Ryan Shackley, his other attacker.

“[Noah] made such a huge difference. We were able to obtain and maintain possessions,” Lyons said. “[And we’ve got] a freshman and two sophomores on our attack. They aren’t big, but they’re fierce competitors and they’re skilled players.”

Westbrook pressured in the minutes following their first goal, during which stretch Rams keeper Carter Landry – one of those players whose name comes up even when he’s not on the field or, for that matter, in the stadium – proved his mettle more than once. 

But the Blazes’ persistence eventually paid off, Curtis Knapton flipping a bouncer past Landry at 8:05 for a 2-0 Westbrook advantage and the clear momentum.

Gorham – also stacked with talent from top to bottom – battled back, turning the action into a tug-of-war. Shortly after the Blazes unwisely drew a minute’s penalty at 6:39, the Rams capitalized, Alex York on the attack calling for a quick pass from Mat Anderson, then redirecting the ball past Westbrook keeper Alex Leblanc. 2-1. 

It was Tristan Brunet, though, who evened the tally at 4:24, resetting the game and letting it be known Gorham wasn’t about to roll over.

LeBlanc and Landry both turned huge saves in the next minute, but at 2:54, York beat LeBlanc to put the Rams ahead for the first time, 3-2. Cam Wright made it 4-2 a mere 67 seconds later, and Gorham seemed to have figured Westbrook out.

Lyons effused over both LeBlanc’s work and Landry’s. “Can you believe the goalkeeping on both sides?” he said.

Soon it was the Rams’ turn to imprudently go man-down, however, and the Blazes’ turn to convert. On the attack, Tibbetts juked close to Landry for an over-the-reverse-shoulder trick shot and his first point of the night. 4-3.

The second quarter past tensely, but scorelessly – until just 2.8 seconds remained before the break, that is, when Wright struck again and grabbed the momentum for Gorham as the teams headed to halftime.

The third began as the first had, with a quick Westbrook goal. Dougherty flipped a short pass from behind Landry’s cage to Oliver, who one-timed the ball to keep the Blazes close, 5-4. A minute later, Tibbetts underhanded his second point – the tying point – past Landry from low on the left side.

LeBlanc logged a huge save at the 10 minute mark to prevent the Rams from inching ahead, and 20 seconds later, Gorham went man-down. Westbrook scored on essentially the same Dougherty-to-Oliver maneuver they’d pulled earlier and now lead, 6-5.

Six taut minutes elapsed before Brunet capitalized on another Gorham man advantage to even the tally. Soon, Wright earned his hat trick with a sniper blast from outside-left for 7-6.

But Oliver worked his magic to start the fourth, winning the faceoff, circling forward on the attack and whipping a pass over to Shackley, who beat Landry for 7-7.

The Rams grabbed another – Brunet’s hat trick – with 10 minutes to play in regulation, then fended off the Blazes for a long, breathless stretch. Tibbetts drew a penalty at 5:10, and the situation looked dire for Westbrook.

But Westbrook’s defensive perimeter mostly held up, and when it didn’t, LeBlanc showed his worth with another huge save. When Tibbetts rejoined the fray, it didn’t take long for Knapton to assist him on the tying goal.

“Gorham’s such a great team,” Lyons said. “We know they have great defenders, who match up well with our top offensive guns. But we have enough depth; a guy like John can step up and have a huge game”

The game tumbled into OT1, but for those four minutes, the rivals matched each other at every turn, forcing OT2.

Oliver won that faceoff too, but Gorham’s defense shunted Shackley out-of-bounds with the ball, generating a turnover. Further turnovers by both teams followed, before LeBlanc eventually picked up the ball. He fired forward; a few passes later, Knapton had it and saw Tibbetts, open at the top of the Gorham zone. Knapton dished and Tibbetts fired; the shot zipped past Landry and ended the game. 

“I’d been kind of hot all game, and I saw an open lane,” Tibbetts said. “Curtis had the ball and he just passed to me and I shot. I’m pretty comfortable outside.”

“Our big guys stepped up,” said Lyons. “All our close defense was solid. Curtis Knapton is just a great all-around player, assisted on the last goal and several others and  had a terrific game.”

“Gorham’s a great team; their goalie’s really good,” Tibbetts said. “It was a well-fought game – double-OT, obviously you can’t complain about that.”

The victory bumped Westbrook to 6-3 on the year. The Blazes are fourth in A South, one slot back from Thornton but one ahead of South Portland. They hosted Cheverus (fourth in A North) on Wednesday the 25th, after the American Journal’s print deadline.

Gorham slipped to 8-2 on the result. The Rams rank second in B South, behind Scarborough but in front of TA. They traveled to Windham (fifth in A North) on the 25th.

Westbrook faceoff ace Noah Oliver scoops up one of many one-on-one centerfield balls in the Blazes’ win at Gorham on Friday.

Gorham artiste Alex York vies for ground with Blazes defender Stephen Shackley.

Ram Tristan Brunet dodges Westbrook defensive pressure.

Westbrook’s Stephen Shackley defends a Gorham attacker on Friday.

Westbrooker Jared Clark tracks a Gorham attacker.

Gorham long-pole Ryan Hamblen escapes Brandon Lajoie of Westbrook.

Westbrooker Curtis Knapton unwinds into a leaping shot at Gorham on Friday. 

Westbrook’s Connor Dougherty, on the attack, takes a hit from Gorham’s Joe Gallant

Gorham’s Mat Anderson and Westbrook’s Grayson Post race for a loose ball on Friday.

Westbrooker John Tibbetts posted four goals – including the game-winner – in the Blazes’ road matchup at Gorham on Friday.

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