PORTLAND–A lackluster first period cost the Ice Cats dearly when they visited Portland/Deering on Saturday evening, Jan. 26. The Cats gave up three goals in the opening stretch, and though they regrouped as the game went on – and picked up a point of their own, thanks to Liam Chisari – they ultimately fell 5-1.

“Portland controlled the puck the whole first,” Cats head coach Dave Lepage said. “We came out flat. We’re an extremely young team, so…we tend to gauge how we’re going to play based upon the other team. If we feel they’re really good, we go in our shell a little bit. That’s what happened.”

Portland/Deering hopped out front early in the first, Carlos Braceras centering the puck from the left side and Aydan Smalley redirecting a one-timer past Cats goalie Graham Payne for 1-0.

Then, with roughly four and a half minutes on the clock, Portland/Deering struck again: Braceras scooped the puck out of a melee low along the right-side boards, then turned and fired an off-angle shot that managed to find the opposite-side top corner of Payne’s cage. 2-0.

The home team added one more before the first break – shorthanded, no less – thanks to Mikias Silva.

The Cats, thankfully, charged onto the ice looking reinvigorated for the second period. The squad evened out the action nicely, and split control of the puck with their hosts. Will Galligan, for instance, generated a nice breakaway shot just 30 seconds in, though Portland/Deering freshman goalie Ryan Becker deflected it wide.

“Towards the end of the first, we started getting our feet going,” Lepage said. “You look around and say, ‘We can skate with these guys.’”

“That’s the key to everything,” Lepage said. “Once we get our feet going, we can play hockey but sometimes you gotta pump a little belief into them, freshmen, sophomores.”

Finally, with 8:47 on the clock, the Cats got on the board: The puck kicked out from a dustup beyond the goal line to Liam Chisari, prowling the high slot area, who picked it up and pulled the trigger on a successful wrister. 3-1.

Alas, the Cats couldn’t stage a full comeback, and Portland/Deering would add two more before the game concluded. The visitors had picked up steam, and they’d slowed their hosts substantially, but winning just wasn’t in the cards. 5-1 the final.

Not just one, but two of the goals the Cats relinquished came when they should’ve been pressing ferociously up-ice on the attack – when they were man-up, that is.

“Two short-handed goals – there’s no excuse for that,” Lepage said. “That’s just plain falling asleep at the wheel. I don’t know if my five that were out there even realized they were on a powerplay or not.”

At other times, the Cats committed obvious defensive missteps. “My defenseman,” Lepage said, “he’s just standing there, not covering anybody. Next thing you know, the guy behind you just tips one in on the far post.”

“But other than that,” Lepage continued, “Graham does a stand-up job for us, game-in and game-out. Our goaltending is solid. He’s a good kid and he works hard at what he does.”

Lepage nodded at a few of his other boys as well, including Colby Turcotte, Galligan, Ed Thurston, Cam Lepage and Raider Nutley.

“Colby continues to be a very good player for us, number five,” Lepage said. “His heart, his effort and his ability to play the game – very good game. Will and Ed came out tonight and played pretty well. Defensively, Cam played well, Raider played well. Just a couple of quick lapses, and that’s how quickly hockey can turn around.”

It’s the first year in a few years the Ice Cats have been varsity program, and they are, as Lepage indicated, extremely young. Their 23-man roster features just two seniors, Chisari and Justin Mushrow, and six juniors; 15 freshmen and sophomores fill the remaining slots.

The Ice Cats slipped to 2-9 on the loss. The team is currently ranked 10th in A South. That’s a few places outside the playoffs, but several games remain on their docket.

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Graham Payne faced a lot of shots vs. Portland/Deering, and performed admirably.

Matt Aker chases a Portland/Deering opponent.

Raider Nutley skirts a Portland/Deering opponent.

Cam Lepage tracks the action, maintaining his position.