Portland/Deering senior Danny Tocci (19) is mobbed by teammates after scoring the first goal of Thursday’s 4-2 win over South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete. Michael Hoffer / For The Forecaster

PORTLAND—Whether you subscribe to the adage that it’s better to be lucky than good, or that you make your own luck, there’s no question that fortune was smiling on the Portland/Deering boys’ hockey co-op team Thursday afternoon at Troubh Ice Arena.

And a couple timely bounces, combined with a stellar effort from junior goalie Ryan Becker, led Portland/Deering to victory.

Facing a South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete co-op squad that also calls Troubh Ice Arena home, Portland/Deering struck first when an errant pass wound up being chased down by senior Danny Tocci, who scored for a 1-0 lead, just 4-minutes, 30-seconds into the first half (teams play two 23-minute halves this season instead of the traditional three, 15-minute periods).

After Becker came up big time and again to preserve the lead, SP/Freeport/Waynflete finally drew even at 18:47 of the first on a goal from sophomore Dylan Hannan, but just 26 seconds later, junior Colby Winship answered to put Portland/Deering ahead to stay, 2-1, a score that would remain after SP/Freeport/Waynflete had a goal waved off just 10 seconds before the end of the first half.

Just 100 seconds into the second half, Portland/Deering’s good fortune continued, as senior Nick McGonagle had a pass go off a defenseman’s skate and into the net.

SP/Freeport/Waynflete pulled within one, 3-2, when Hannan scored on the power play with 16:42 left, but they wouldn’t solve Becker again and with 2:24 remaining, Tocci’s second goal proved to be the dagger and Portland/Deering went on to a 4-2 victory.

Portland/Deering improved to 2-1 on the season and in the process, dropped SP/Freeport/Waynflete to 1-3.

“We won a lot of little battles and got the job done tonight,” said Portland/Deering first-year coach Matt King. “We’ve really improved. Today, it wasn’t pretty, but we did what we had to do.”

A different setting

Both squads made the playoffs a year ago, as Portland/Deering was eliminated by Scarborough in the Class A state quarterfinals and SP/Freeport/Waynflete lost to eventual champion Lewiston in the semifinals, but there’s no title quest to embark on this winter, as COVID-19 first delayed, then left local hockey players with an abbreviated season.

One that they’re happy to have.

“As a senior, it really means the world to me,” Tocci said. “I went from not knowing if we’d have a season and being down in the dumps to seeing the guys every day and having good, positive interaction. I love these guys.”

Portland/Deering, which has King filling in as coach this winter, as Jeff Beaney is taking the year off, started with a 4-1 home loss to Falmouth, then downed Gorham, 5-1.

“We started out a little sluggish against Falmouth,” King said. “We were getting our game legs underneath us. We came out against Gorham and put a lot of pressure on them and sustained it.”

SP/Freeport/Waynflete opened with a 4-0 victory at Biddeford, then lost at home to Biddeford (1-0) and was held in check by host Scarborough Monday as well, 2-1.

Last year, SP/Freeport/Waynflete won both meetings with Portland/Deering, 5-0 and 6-1.

Thursday, in front of empty stands, the teams took the ice with no introductions, but soon reminded everyone that once the whistle blows, the quality of play remains high.

After Becker denied Hannan in front to first make his presence felt, SP/Freeport/Waynflete had the puck in the Portland/Deering zone, but a pass back to the blue line got away and Tocci ran it down, went one-on-one with SP/Freeport/Waynflete goalie Jasper Curtis and finished for a quick 1-0 lead.

“It looked like the puck rolled around the boards and the defenseman mishandled it a little bit,” Tocci said. “I was fortunate to go down and flip it in five-hole.”

Becker then preserved the lead by saving shots from sophomore Richard Gilboy, sophomore Seth Cloutier, junior Cullen Adams in close, sophomore Ian Wright, junior Wyatt Adams and Cullen Adams again.

“Our defense was solid in front me, blocking shots and getting rid of scoring opportunities,” Ryan Becker said.

Curtis frustrated Portland/Deering as well, as he denied junior Andrew Legere twice, senior Nick Becker and Tocci twice on a rebound.

With 4:13 to go in the first half, SP/Freeport/Waynflete broke through, as Cullen Adams sent a long pass ahead and Hannan outraced a defender to the puck before one-timing it past Ryan Becker to tie it, 1-1.

The deadlock didn’t last, as before that goal could be announced, a nice passing sequence put Portland/Deering back ahead to stay.

Senior Peter Gribbin got things started, getting the puck to Nick Becker, who fed Winship for a 2-1 lead with 3:47 remaining in the half.

After Nick Becker gave up his body to block a shot by SP/Freeport/Waynflete senior Harry Millspaugh, it appeared the game would go to halftime tied, as senior Kyle Rand seemed to score on a rebound of his own shot, but the goal was waved off.

Portland/Deering was happy with the call.

“The puck was in front and I was trying to cover it,” Ryan Becker said. “Everyone was battling. I’ll take it.”

“That was the right call,” King said. “I thought we had it tied up.”

Not surprisingly, SP/Freeport/Waynflete wasn’t happy at all.

“(Both officials) said they lost sight of (the puck),” said SP/Freeport/Waynflete coach Joe Robinson. “Usually five guys don’t jump and celebrate if it’s not a goal. Even (Portland/Deering’s) goalie acted like it was a goal.”

Rand nearly tied the score in the final second, but Ryan Becker made the save, then denied a rebound from Cullen Adams to keep Portland/Deering on top heading into intermission.

The second half opened with Portland/Deering doubling his lead when McGonagle attempted to pass the puck in front, but it went off a defenseman’s skate and slid between Curtis’ legs to make it 3-1. McGonagle said after the game that he wasn’t planning to do that, but fortune smiled upon him.

“I don’t even know what happened,” Tocci said. “Kudos to him. He’s worked hard all season and that’s why he’s our leading scorer.”

With 16:50 to go, Tocci was sent off for roughing and SP/Freeport/Waynflete immediately took advantage, as eight seconds later, Cullen Adams set up Hannan for a shot through a screen and Ryan Becker didn’t see the puck in time as it sailed in just inside the far post to cut the deficit to 3-2 (senior Owen Anderson was also credited with an assist on the play).

Ryan Becker then did all he could to keep Portland/Deering on top, as he robbed Cullen Adams, caught a shot by Gilboy, bobbled it, then sprawled to keep it out of the net.

“Ryan is our backbone,” said Tocci. “Every single night, he keeps us in it. He’s the reason why we win games.”

“Ryan’s been great,” King said. “He keeps us in games. Today, he had to hold us in it the whole first half. We played better in the second half, getting the puck out.”

“We’re getting plenty of offensive chances,” Robinson lamented. “Our forecheck is good, but we’re just not burying the puck.”

After Gribbin broke up a rush by junior Brady Frank, SP/Freeport/Waynflete went on the power play again with 7:08 to play, but this time, it couldn’t register a single shot, despite Robinson taking timeout.

“We were solid on the penalty-kill,” Ryan Becker said. “We had the puck most of the time. We turned it up when it mattered.”

“They had all the momentum and they’re very good on the power play,” Tocci said. “They’re very well coached and know how to move the puck. We got lucky.”

“That was very frustrating,” Robinson said.

Portland/Deering actually had the only scoring chance on the power play, as Nick Becker nearly scored shorthanded, but Curtis robbed him.

After Ryan Becker stopped shots by senior Nick Weatherbie and freshman Toby Lappin, Tocci put it away with 2:24 on the clock, as after a turnover, he backhanded a shot past Curtis to make it 4-2.

“They coughed it up and I went around the defenseman and tried to throw it on net and fortunately it trickled through,” Tocci said.

Portland/Deering then put the finishing touches on its victory.

“Everyone did their job and we came out on top,” Ryan Becker said. “It’s been crazy, but I’m happy to be playing. We’ve been grinding in practice. It’s showing out here.”

“South Portland’s a good team,” King said. “They really exploited the middle of the ice. We won a bunch of little battles and got it done.”

Limited time

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete is idle until next Saturday, the 27th, when it hosts Thornton Academy.

“We haven’t had many practices and we have a lot to work on,” Robinson said. “I’m just glad to be out here. We’re very sophomore-heavy. I think we’ll be really good next year. This a good year to prepare for it.”

Portland/Deering, meanwhile, faces rival Cheverus in the “City Cup” Saturday night.

“It’s all about the memories,” Tocci said. “We’ll never get these times back. Whether we win all our games or win none, I want to be with the guys and enjoy it while I can. We’ll be fired up to play the ‘City Cup.’ Hopefully we can make it two (years) in a row.”

“So far, so good,” said King. “We have a lot of improving we can do, but it’s nice to have a couple wins. If we get a Senior Night in, it’ll be a bonus. Some normalcy for these guys.”

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

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