PORTLAND—The Brunswick Dragons truly saved their best for last and proved once and for all that it isn’t how you start a season, but how you finish it and Saturday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena, they were able to complete the 2021-22 campaign as Class B boys’ hockey state champions.

For the first time.

Facing a Camden Hills squad which also was seeking its first crown, Brunswick struck first, at 1:54 of the opening period, when sophomore Garrett Countway tipped home senior Tommy Labbe’s shot.

In the second period, junior goalie Luke Patterson stood tall for the Dragons, stopping all 12 shots he faced, and Brunswick clung to a 1-0 advantage going to the third.

And there, the Dragons finished it off.

After Patterson turned aside several Windjammers’ bids to tie it, junior Zach Stern-Hayes, the hero of Brunswick’s epic five-overtime victory over Cheverus/Yarmouth in the regional semifinals, buried a rebound with 2:44 to go for a two-goal lead.

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The Dragons slammed the door from there and ascended to the pinnacle for the first time, 2-0.

Patterson stopped all 31 shots he faced, as Brunswick closed on a 12-game win streak, finished the year 17-4 and ended Camden Hills’ fine season at 13-5 in the process.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, celebrating with all your friends with your school behind you,” said Stern-Hayes. “Hard work and sticking together got us here.”

Dream realized

The Dragons won their first three games, lost to Cheverus/Yarmouth in overtime, beat Windham and York (in OT), then lost to Greely and Leavitt (in overtime). After sitting idle for over two weeks, Brunswick lost at Camden Hills, but the Dragons wouldn’t fall again, closing on an eight-game surge, which included victories over Cheverus/Yarmouth, Edward Little and Cape Elizabeth.

“(After losing to Camden Hills), I couldn’t have envisioned this,” said Dragons coach Mike Misner. “We just tried to take it one game at a time. We just started building and found some success. After the EL game, we felt like the boys were on the same page, believing in each other. It was a little poetic to play Camden Hills again.”

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The Dragons opened the playoffs by eliminating No. 7 Gorham, 8-1, in the quarterfinals then outlasted No. 3 Cheverus/Yarmouth in a five-overtime epic, 4-3, in the semifinals on Stern-Hayes’ goal. In Tuesday’s Class B South Final, Brunswick scored three goals in less than a minute early in the third period and rode that surge to a 6-4 win over top-ranked Greely, ending the Rangers’ three-year regional and two-year state title reign, while punching its ticket to states for the first time.

Camden Hills, meanwhile, was a solid 10-4 in the regular season, but with most eyes on Messalonskee in Class B North, the fourth-ranked Windjammers weren’t expected to make it to the state final.

But they knocked off No. 5 John Bapst, 2-0, in the quarterfinals, ended No. 8 Gardiner’s Cinderella run in decisive fashion (9-1) in the semifinals, then Wednesday, in the regional final, eliminated second-seeded Hampden Academy, 5-2.

Saturday, in front of a good-sized, vocal crowd, Brunswick made program history.

The Windjammers had a couple great chances early, but Patterson stopped junior Aiden Aselton on a rush and sophomore Owen McManus ripped a shot just high.

Then, with 13:06 left in the first period, Dragons junior Kennedy Eddy set up Labbe, who took a shot, which Countway tipped past Camden Hills senior goalie Jackson Bernier for a quick 1-0 lead.

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“It was good to get our momentum going at the start,” Patterson said.

“We told the boys the first three minutes and the last three minutes of each period would be huge,” Misner said. “They keyed on that. We didn’t know we’d have to hold (that 1-0 lead) the whole time.”

The Dragons then looked to add to it, but Stern-Hayes’ spinner was denied by Bernier.

The Windjammers then went on the power play, but Patterson denied senior Jakob Johnson.

Brunswick nearly doubled its lead, when junior Nick Marro raced in short-handed and had a good look at the goal, but he fired wide.

After Patterson stopped a shot from sophomore Emmet Marshall, Marro tried again, but Bernier made the save, then he stopped junior AJ Wolverton on the rebound.

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With 7:08 left in the period, Brunswick junior Grey Perham skated in and shot high, but he got the puck back and appeared to have an empty net to shoot into, but Aselton slid over and made a tremendous defensive play, blocking the shot.

With 3:25 remaining, Camden Hills went on the power play again, but Patterson robbed McManus to preserve the lead.

The Dragons had one final chance as time wound down, but Bernier robbed senior Sam Masse and the score remained 1-0 heading to the first intermission.

The Windjammers had a 12-9 edge in shots in the first 15 minutes, but had nothing to show for it.

The score remained 1-0 through the second period.

Marro threatened to double the lead early in the period, but he was robbed by Bernier after a nice move.

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Camden Hills then went on the power play for the third time and for the third time, couldn’t convert, as Patterson denied both junior Zanni Sabatini and Johnson.

“We knew it would be a physical game, so we spent the past two, three practices just on special teams, because we knew it would come down to that,” Misner said. “That paid off.”

The Windjammers continued to press for the equalizer, but Patterson turned aside a pair of shots from senior Camden Powell, then kicked away a bid from sophomore Owen Hotchkin before reaching out and snaring senior Rory Carlson’s blast with his glove.

Late in the period, Brunswick started generating chances again, but Stern-Hayes had a shot saved by Bernier, then he shot wide on a rush before senior Ollie Bateman was robbed in front by Bernier.

With 26.7 seconds left, Masse was sent to the penalty box for slashing and while the Dragons took a 1-0 lead to the second intermission, the Windjammers, who out-shot Brunswick, 12-4, in the second, began the third period on the power play.

And couldn’t do anything with it.

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Then, with 11:25 left, Sabatini tried to tie it, but he was robbed on the doorstep.

Brunswick then tried to open it up, but Bernier made a kick save on a shot from Labbe and Wolverton and Bateman were both denied as well.

The Dragons then went on the power play with 8:41 remaining and after Bernier saved a shot from Marro, it appeared Brunswick doubled its lead, as Bernier saved a shot from Stern-Hayes, but Wolverton scored on the rebound, however, the goal was waved off because Wolverton kicked it in and review upheld the call.

“We felt they probably weren’t going to give us the goal, but it was more about giving our players some rest,” said Misner. “If they didn’t give it to us, it was like a free timeout. They have cameras here, so why not use them.”

Camden Hills then returned to the attack, but Patterson saved shots from Carlson and sophomore Cam Brown.

Then, with 2:44 to go, the Dragons finally got their insurance goal.

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Perham took the initial shot, which was saved by Bernier. Stern-Hayes then got to the puck and tried to score, only have his bid saved, but Stern-Hayes stayed with it and was rewarded, sending the rebound home to make it 2-0.

“We felt good, but we knew we couldn’t stop,” said Stern-Hayes. “We were getting chances, it was just a matter of time until we got another one. There was a lot of chaos. I shot it once and it was saved, so I had to do it again.”

“It was pretty stressful, so I was so relieved when we got the second goal,” Patterson said.

After pulling Bernier, the Windjammers had a couple more chances, but Patterson saved shots from Brown and Aselton and at 2:45 p.m., the horn sounded and Brunswick stormed the ice to celebrate its 2-0 victory.

“It’s great,” Patterson said. “We woke up early every morning for practice, so to get here and win is amazing. We worked hard every day and it paid off. We always believed in ourselves. Once we got on a winning streak, we all believed it could happen. We didn’t want to lose again. It all fell into place after the (semifinals). That was such a grind, but we got it done.”

“It’s amazing,’ Misner said. “It goes back to all the support we’ve gotten from the community. Between parents, former players reaching out to us, it’s been amazing. The Brunswick community athletically, needed this.”

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Patterson was exceptional with 31 saves.

“Once I get in a groove, I just stay there,” said Patterson. “Our defense did a great job in front of me and if I see shots, I’m going to make saves.”

“Luke played insane, all regular season and in the playoffs,” Stern-Hayes said. “Luke’s the best goalie I’ve ever played with.”

“The way Luke stood on his head the way he did, was outstanding,” Misner added. “He’s ramped his game up during the playoffs and today was just the pinnacle of what he can do. He stopped shot after shot after shot and not easy shots. I could tell in the first period he was on his game. We were tight and flat in the second period and he carried us through that and well into the third.”

Camden Hills had a 31-24 shots advantage, but went 0-for-5 on the power play.

“It was a tight game, a great high school hockey game,” said Windjammers coach John Magri. “I’m proud of everything we did. I don’t think our first period was our best period and that’s when they got up on us. We out-shot them, so we were going hard. Being a school down from the north, we wanted to play a game that could be respected. In years past, this game has seen blowouts. We wanted to give everybody a hell of a game and we did.

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“I just went in (the locker room) and told the guys not to hold their heads low. We’re going to back to fire engines in town. We’re the best team the town’s ever hard. We’re going to the Class B North banquet tomorrow. There will be 12 teams there and we’re the best. We don’t have a legacy, but we started one.

“We’d like to come back again.”

Looking for an encore

Brunswick loses some key seniors, but will be returning a ton of talent next winter and now that it’s finally gotten over the hump, the Dragons will look to stay at the pinnacle for awhile.

“I think we have to run it back,” Stern-Hayes said. “We have to do it again.”

“To finally get it done for the first time is just great and now, we might have to run it back,” Patterson said. “We have the talent to.”

“We lose some key defensive guys in Sam Masse and Tommy Labbe and Joe Marro, who’s a sparkplug for us, but we have a strong junior class coming back,” Misner added. “We’ve been here, we know what it’s like and we want to do it again.”

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

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