After opening the Class B South playoffs with a 5-0 quarterfinal victory over Yarmouth on Tuesday, sixth-seeded Cape Elizabeth knocked off No. 2 Cheverus in overtime Saturday night to advance to the regional final against Greely for the third year in a row. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Saturday’s Class B South semifinal against Cheverus was a microcosm of the Cape Elizabeth boys’ hockey season.

Struggle at the start, perseverance, a touch more adversity, and then success.

The sixth-seeded Capers dispatched another high seed, beating No. 2 Cheverus 4-3 in overtime Saturday night. That followed a 5-0 rout of No. 3 Yarmouth in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Cape Elizabeth was 2-8 through 10 games. Time to pack it up?

“Two-and-eight was more a motivational thing,” senior captain Jonas Moon said. “Rather than getting down on ourselves, the boys started to buy in. You can’t get much worse than 2-8. We started climbing, and we haven’t looked back since.”

Barry Mothes noticed. Mothes is in his 26th year of coaching Greely, the No. 1 seed in Class B South and the defending state champion. His Rangers (15-3-1) play Cape Wednesday night in the South final.

“They’ve improved a lot since December. They are playing with a lot of confidence, which is obviously important in high school hockey,” Mothes said. “They’re playing with a lot of energy. They’re young with some key veteran guys.

“They’re certainly playing as well as anybody, and they beat two good teams to get to Wednesday.”

Greely beat No. 4 Gorham 7-1 in the late Saturday semifinal, but Mothes was not gloating.

“I’m glad we were able to put enough hockey together for the win, but I’m not sitting here elated … we have a lot of work to do,” Mothes said. “We’re still making mistakes, not being smart enough with the puck. We got sloppy at times.

“Cape is playing well, and they have some very opportunistic forwards. If we don’t smarten up, things may not go the way we want them.”

That is the Capers’ hope.

Cape’s roster includes 12 freshmen and five sophomores, along with five seniors and three juniors. The young Capers showed talent early, but not enough savvy to put away teams. When the Capers were 2-8, they next played Portland/Deering next and took a 4-1 lead into the third period. Portland scored three goals to tie it, and Cape looked headed for more disappointment. But the Capers scored for a 5-4 win. Freshman goalie Will Depke made 20 saves.

“That was a big step for us,” Depke said.

The Capers went on a four-game winning streak, part of an 8-2 run, including the two playoff wins.

“We’re a lot different,” Cape Coach Jacob Rutt said. “We got some personnel in different spots. We’re playing with a lot more confidence and a lot more purpose. We’re harder to play against. Last month and a half, we’ve been able to develop our depth, and I think that’s where our success has been.

“Will is playing with a lot more confidence. He’s challenging the shooters. His game has come a long way, and our defensive corps have, too, not just defensemen, but a defensive-first mentality for all the guys on the ice.”

That mentality was not on display in the opening seconds Saturday, when Cheverus senior forward Jackson Wilson skated past Cape’s defenders and beat Depke with an odd-angle shot just 21 seconds into the game.

“That surprised me. I didn’t have the angle (covered). I wasn’t tuned in,” Depke said.

Cheverus beat Cape 6-3 two months ago, but Stags Coach Marco Giancotti had seen how much the Capers improved.

“We got a break (on the early goal). Jackson broke through and did what Jackson always does,” Giancotti said. “But I knew (Cape’s) structure was good. Their forecheck was excellent.

“That wasn’t the same team we faced before – and we knew that coming in. Jake has done such a fantastic job with those kids.”

Speaking of fantastic jobs, save some applause for Giancotti and assistant Mike Connolly (the Bowdoin College baseball coach) – two fathers of Cheverus players who stepped in at the last minute to coach the team and guided the Stags to a 17-3 record.

Cheverus lost the lead twice and then trailed 3-2 before Wilson netted his second goal at 10:37 of the third period.

The Capers could have been down, but these players have picked themselves up before. Rutt gathered them before overtime.

“I told the boys, ‘hey, let’s think about two months ago. Did we ever think that we were going to be in this spot? There’s no reason to grip our sticks tight. Let’s go out and embrace the moment, make some hard plays and see what happens,’” Rutt said.

What happened was Gavin Simopoulos rocketed a shot that deflected off the tip of the goalie’s glove and into the net.

“I just put my head down and shot as hard as I could, and it took a lucky bounce,” said Simopoulos, a junior captain. “We had a game plan going into the game. We obviously didn’t start the way we wanted to, but we stuck to the game plan the whole game, and it obviously paid off.

“We have young team. Once we all got used to the level of play (this season), we really put it together. Now we’re a three-line team that’s ready to perform every game.”

The Capers will again be underdogs against Greely, which has defeated Cape Elizabeth in the regional final the last two seasons. Mothes knows his team can’t afford to be overconfident.

“We have a history of tight, tense hockey games with them,” he said. “I expect Wednesday to be a very, very competitive game.”

UPDATE: This story was updated on March 2 at 12:45 p.m. to correctly identify Cape Elizabeth captain Gavin Simopoulos.

 


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