Cheverus/Yarmouth players and coaches celebrate winning the City Cup after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Portland/Deering. Contributed photo

PORTLAND—Last winter, Cheverus’ boys’ hockey team relinquished control of the City Cup to rival Portland/Deering.

Saturday evening at Troubh Arena, Cheverus, which is now part of a co-op team with Yarmouth, went out and won it back.

With key contributions from players from both schools.

In a high-intensity battle, even without fans in the stands, each team had ample opportunities to score, but goals were at a premium and the contest hung in the balance nearly the whole way.

It took nearly 20 minutes for a goal to be scored, as Cheverus/Yarmouth senior goalie Bryson Pomerleau and Portland/Deering junior goalie Ryan Becker stood tall.

Cheverus/Yarmouth took a 1-0 lead with 4:58 to go in the first half, as Yarmouth junior Matt Robichaud finished, but with 1:18 remaining, Portland/Deering senior Max Cheever’s long blast eluded Pomerleau and tied the score.

Cheverus/Yarmouth retook the lead less than three minutes into the second half, as Cheverus senior Cal Oliver beat Becker and this time, it wouldn’t give it back.

Portland/Deering had several power play opportunities to draw even, but couldn’t do so and finally, with 2:16 on the clock, another Cheverus student, senior Jackson Header, delivered the coup de grace on the power play and Cheverus/Yarmouth went on to a 3-1 victory.

Cheverus/Yarmouth evened its record at 2-2 as it dropped Portland/Deering to 2-2 in the process.

“The Cheverus seniors tonight talked to the Yarmouth boys about what this Cup means to them,” said longtime Yarmouth coach Dave St. Pierre, who is co-coaching the co-op team with former Cheverus coach Marco Giancotti. “The chemistry has been nice to see.”

A new twist

Not only did the 2020-21 season get delayed and eventually abbreviated by COVID-19, games are being played this winter with no fans and in two 23-minute halves, instead of three 15-minute periods.

Another change is that Cheverus is no longer a stand-alone program, as it teamed up with Yarmouth this winter.

“We had a long courtship and unfortunately, we’re doing this in the middle of a pandemic and it isn’t easy, but the boys are really coming together nicely,” Giancotti said. “We’ve married up with an excellent coaching staff.”

“When we had this conversation with Cheverus, we were looking to partner up with a quality organization with quality coaches and quality players,” St. Pierre said. “We felt it was a good match for us. It’s everything we expected it to be.”

Cheverus/Yarmouth opened by dominating St. Dom’s, 11-2, then lost to two-time Class B champion Greely (4-1) and Falmouth (5-2).

Portland/Deering, under new coach Matt King, began with a 4-1 home loss to Falmouth, then downed visiting Gorham (5-1) and South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete (4-2).

The City Cup started in 2009-10 as a fundraiser for the Portland Middle School Hockey program, the primary feed for the high school hockey programs in Portland.

Last year, Portland/Deering won the Cup, 6-4, but this time, it was Cheverus/Yarmouth’s turn, as it took an 8-4 all-time advantage in the series.

The goalies took center stage for most of the first period.

Becker denied early bids from junior Wyatt Header, Robichaud and junior Oliver Prinn, while Pomerleau stopped shots by Portland/Deering senior Danny Tocci, senior Nick Becker and sophomore Liam Fay-Leblanc.

After Ryan Becker stopped a pair of shots by Jackson Header, Cheverus/Yarmouth finally broke through with 4:58 on the first half clock.

After a turnover, Robichaud skated up the right side on a 2-on-1 with Jackson Header to his left, but after hesitating, Robichaud kept the puck and ripped a shot past Becker and into the goal for a 1-0 advantage.

Pomerleau preserved the save by denying junior Carlos Braceras, Tocci and Braceras again, but with 1:18 to go, the puck came out to Cheever just inside the blue line and Cheever wound up and unleashed a blast that Pomerleau couldn’t stop, tying the score, and that’s how the game stood at halftime.

In the first half, Cheverus/Yarmouth out-shot Portland/Deering, 13-11, but the game was deadlocked.

It wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Cheverus/Yarmouth came out sizzling in the second half, but Becker initially denied Jackson Header, junior Cam Miller and Wyatt Header.

But with 20:40 to go, Prinn got the puck to Oliver, just to the right of Becker, and Oliver roofed a shot past the goalie and in for a 2-1 lead.

“The coaches told us the second half had to be the turning point of our season,” said Oliver. “I saw Ollie kick the puck out to me. I was right on the goal line. I used my instincts to get the puck on net. I tried to go up high with it. I was really excited.”

“Cal’s been a big contributor for us on that third line,” St. Pierre said. “It’s nice to have production from everybody.”

Then, it was up to Pomerleau to preserve the lead and he did so, with a lot of help from Cheverus/Yarmouth’s penalty kill.

A first power play for Portland/Deering saw Cheever put two shots on goal and Nick Becker do so as well, but Pomerleau saved them all.

After another penalty, King took timeout, but Portland/Deering couldn’t capitalize, as senior Nick McGonagle had an apparent goal off a deflected shot waved off for high-sticking, Nick Becker had a shot saved by Pomerleau and both Fay-LeBlanc and Tocci were stymied.

On the next Cheverus/Yarmouth penalty, Braceras had a look, but Pomerleau made the stop.

With 11:28 to go, Cheverus/Yarmouth got to go on the power play and it peppered Ryan Becker, but Becker denied junior Kevin Connolly twice and Jackson Header and sophomore Truman Peters once.

With 8:10 remaining, Portland/Deering went on the power play for the final time, but only managed one shot, by Braceras, which Pomerleau saved.

“We’ve learned our penalty kill is pretty good,” Giancotti said. “We’re pretty pleased with it.”

Pomerleau then saved a shot by junior Colby Winship.

With 3:15 remaining, Portland/Deering’s comeback hopes were all but dashed when it took a penalty and 59 seconds later, after Ryan Becker saved shots by Jackson Header and Connolly, Robichaud set up Jackson Header for a goal and a 3-1 advantage.

“We moved the puck better and Jackson took a nice crisp shot and got the goalie moving and that’s what it takes,” said St. Pierre. “Ryan’s a quality goalie. We knew going in he’d make it hard for us to put the puck in the net and he did. He made some great saves, but credit to our boys, they kept attacking and putting pucks on net. We didn’t give up and grinded out a couple goals.”

Cheverus/Yarmouth didn’t allow Portland/Deering to rally from there and celebrated the victory.

And the new piece of hardware.

“This means a lot to us,” said Pomerleau. “The team’s excited about the win. We knew how to handle adversity and we knew what to do down the stretch. The coaches have pushed family all year. That our chant.”

“The last few games have been rough for us,” Oliver said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity, so this meant a lot for us to get back on the right track.”

“It means a lot to get the Cup back,” Giancotti added. “It didn’t feel good losing it last year in my first year as varsity coach. I’ve known Matt King a long time and we’ve coached together. I know the boys on that team and we have a lot of respect for them. It’s hard to see this group of seniors go. I have very fond memories of coaching with them and against them.”

Cheverus/Yarmouth had a 29-21 shots advantage, didn’t allow a single power play goal and got 20 saves from Pomerleau.

“I was just staying in net and staying focused,” Pomerleau said. “I communicated with the defense and we all played hard.”

“Bryson was phenomenal,” Oliver said. “He really stepped up, especially in the second half. He came up with huge saves and that won us the game.”

“(Bryson) made great saves when he needed to and that kept momentum on our side,” said Giancotti.

“We had some good chances, but (Bryson) made some huge saves,” King lamented.

Portland/Deering got 26 saves from Ryan Becker, but couldn’t take advantage of some great opportunities.

“(Cheverus/Yarmouth has) a lot of depth,” King said. “We roll two lines and spot guys here and there, but we ran out of gas. We couldn’t retrieve pucks we dumped in or sustain pressure. We didn’t capitalize on the power play. It was disjointed, even 5-on-3. We struggled to set it up.

“We didn’t know it was the City Cup game until about 6-o-clock tonight. We were told it wasn’t, then the athletic directors got together and decided it would be. It didn’t have the intensity it normally does. We tried to not get too hyped up. Cheverus is a huge rivalry. It wasn’t a bad thing that it was downplayed. ”

Looking ahead

Portland/Deering welcomes Westbrook/Windham Thursday, then plays host to Gorham Saturday.

“It’s time we maybe split up our top two lines and maybe even go with three lines,” King said. “We’ve got to get more guys involved.”

Cheverus/Yarmouth, meanwhile, hosts Brunswick Thursday, then welcomes Greely next Saturday.

“We hope to have a good record,” said Pomerleau. “Having fun is a big point as well. It’s not the same season as usual, but it’s really good to have a family atmosphere around here.”

“With a little more time, I think you’ll see a lot out of this team,” Giancotti said.

“We look forward to a bright future,” added St. Pierre. “First and foremost, I hope we get to finish the season. I hope the kids get to enjoy the experience. Our big goal is continue to build the culture of this program and build a new identity together, go hard, compete and finish the season the right way.”

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

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