A pair of Portland/Deering girls’ hockey players celebrate during Wednesday’s 6-2 home win over Biddeford. Portland/Deering finished the regular season 13-5.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—What a difference a year makes.

At the end of last season, Portland/Deering’s girls’ hockey team managed to win just one game and tears were the overriding emotion.

Flash forward to Wednesday afternoon where the mood was much more buoyant as Portland/Deering capped a season of resurgence, the best regular season in program history, with a decisive Senior Night victory over the visiting Biddeford Tigers (a co-op team which includes players from Thornton Academy and Wells) at Troubh Ice Arena.

While Portland/Deering controlled play in the first period, it only managed to score once, as standout Emily Demers found the net midway through.

Portland/Deering then opened it up in the second period, as Demers set up freshman Caroline Lerch for a goal at 3:52, junior Inez Braceras scored on a rebound 26 seconds later and after Biddeford got on the board on a power play tally from junior Paige Laverriere, Demers scored unassisted with 2:37 remaining in the period to make it 4-1.

In a penalty-filled third period, junior Maddy Danse added to the lead at 2:21 and after the visitors got a goal back from freshman Ainsley Wescott, Demers completed her hat trick with 1:41 remaining and Portland/Deering went on to a 6-2 victory.

“Last year at this time, we were sobbing because the season was over,” said Braceras. “This is the first time we’ve made it to playoffs in my high school hockey career. I had no idea we’d be this good. It’s so fun. It’s an amazing feeling to win.”

Quite a turnaround

Portland/Deering entered the season expected to be improved, but few thought the team would make such a quantum leap.

Portland/Deering started with a 9-2 home win over Brunswick, then lost at home to Greely, 12-1, and at York in overtime (7-6). After a 10-4 victory at Yarmouth/Freeport, Portland/Deering was blanked at home by Cheverus, 6-0. After closing the 2017 portion of its schedule with a win over host Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland (5-0), a first-ever victory over visiting Scarborough (8-3) and home wins over York (4-1) and Gorham/Bonny Eagle (10-2), Portland/Deering rang in the new year with a 4-3 overtime victory over Cheverus in the “City Cup.” After winning at Edward Little/Leavitt, 8-1, Portland/Deering defeated visiting Winslow/Gardiner (5-2) and won at Gorham/Bonny Eagle (11-0). After losing at home to Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/SP (3-2), Portland/Deering beat host Falmouth (5-2) and visiting Mt. Ararat/Morse (4-1), then lost Monday at two-time defending state champion St. Dom’s, 9-1.

Biddeford has been up-and-down, but entered the game on a 5-1-1 stretch.

Last year, Biddeford took both meetings, 8-0 at home and 3-1 in Portland.

Wednesday, Portland/Deering capped its season in style.

Early on, Portland/Deering was frustrated by Biddeford freshman goalie Trinity Atwater, who denied good looks from Lerch and Demers.

With 7:24 remaining in the first period, Portland/Deering went on top to stay when Demers scored (Mikayla Fortin got an assist). 

The visitors almost drew even with 4:40 to go, but after Wescott’s shot eluded Portland/Deering goalie Adrianna Bodge, a defender swept the puck away at the last second.

In the first intermission, Portland/Deering focused on extending its lead.

“t was 1-0, but I think the ice was tilted substantially one way,” said Portland/Deering coach Tom Clifford. “They have a pretty good goaltender. We knew we had to keep shooting and eventually we’d get something to go in.”

With 11:08 to go in the second period, on a rush, Demers set up Lerch, who beat Atwater for a 2-0 lead.

Just as the applause from that goal was winding down and with Biddeford on the power play, Braceras scored on a rebound for a short-handed goal with 10:42 remaining (Maeve LeClair got an assist) for a 3-0 advantage.

“We shot on net more in the second period,” Braceras said. “We stepped it up because we really wanted to win. (That goal) was a blur, but I remember just hitting it in.”

“Inez’s line has been unbelievable stepping up,” said Clifford.

Biddeford got a goal back at 5:09, when Laverriere scored out of a scrum on the power play (senior Allaina Keely and Wescott were credited with assists).

The Tigers wouldn’t get any closer and with 2:37 remaining, Demers scored unassisted on a rush to make it 4-1 after two periods.

Portland/Deering didn’t let up in the third period and 2:21 in, Lerch set up Danse for a goal to extend the lead.

After Biddeford got a goal back with 7:46 remaining, when Wescott backhanded a shot on a rush, Demers ended all doubt and scored for the third time with 1:41 remaining (Kit Rosmus had an assist).

“We play up to (Emily’s) level because she’s so good,” Braceras said. “She brings everyone up. She’s been a huge addition to the team.”

“Emily, Emma Merrill and Caroline have been great supporting the others,” said Clifford.

Portland/Deering slammed the door from there and celebrated its 6-2 victory.

“For the program, it’s huge,” Clifford said. “As coaches, we gave the girls a blueprint and they took it. All year long they’ve been spectacular supporting each other. We exceeded expectations a little bit, but the night we beat Cheverus, I thought the girls learned how to win and we just got out of the way.”

Playoff time

Biddeford (currently ranked fifth in the South Region Heal Points standings) finishes its regular season Saturday at home against Gorham/Bonny Eagle. Biddeford will then take part in a quarterfinal round playoff game Wednesday of next week.

Portland/Deering (second in the region), along with top-ranked Cheverus/Kennebunk, earns a bye into the semifinals the weekend of Feb. 9-10 and will look to advance to the regional final for the first time.

“We have to keep working hard and keep our heads up, but I think we’re ready,” Braceras said. “We’ll work hard in practice.”

“We won’t look too far ahead,” Clifford said. “We want to stay even keeled. If we show up and compete, I’ll play anybody.”

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

Portland/Deering’s Emily Demers fires a shot on goal. Demers had three goals in the victory.

Portland/Deering freshman Caroline Lerch carries the puck.

Portland/Deering goalie Adrianna Bodge protects the cage.

Portland/Deering’s Caroline Lerch skates in on Biddeford/TA/Wells freshman goalie Trinity Atwater.