PORTLAND—For 15 minutes Saturday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Arena, it was postseason business as usual for the South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete co-op boys’ hockey team.

The squad, ranked fifth, continued to surge in the month of March, getting first period goals from juniors Hewitt Sykes and Tobey Labbin to take a 2-0 lead over No. 2 Thornton Academy in the Class A state final.

But the Golden Trojans, who had their hearts broken in double-overtime in last year’s state game, flipped the switch when the second period began and after sophomore Gavin Pellerin got them on the board 45 seconds in, Pellerin tied the score at 7:49 and two minutes later, a rebound goal from junior Jacob Marcotte put Thornton Academy ahead to stay, 3-2.

When senior Shane Bergeron scored 17 seconds into the third period, it appeared the Golden Trojans were going to pull away, but South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete dug deep and produced one more highlight, as Sykes scored with 8:55 to go to make it a one-goal game.

But an epic comeback and a first-ever championship wasn’t to be, as Thornton Academy senior goalie Porter Krause didn’t allow another goal and with 4:14 remaining, senior Evan Beaudette delivered the dagger with a breakaway goal and the Golden Trojans went on to a 5-3 victory.

Thornton Academy finished with a record of 17-4, won its third championship overall, its first since 2013, and in the process, ended the superb season of South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete at 12-9.


“It was a really good run,” said longtime South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete coach Joe Robinson. “In the middle of the season, it wasn’t looking good, but we turned it on at the right time and had a good run in the playoffs. We gave it our best shot.”

Midnight strikes

Thornton Academy couldn’t quite win it all a year ago, as it suffered a 2-1 double-overtime decision to Scarborough in the final.

But the Golden Trojans picked right up where they left off, starting the year 5-0 and 9-1, then recovering from a three-game skid with five more victories to earn the No. 2 seed for the Class A state playoffs.

Thornton Academy then held off No. 7 Marshwood (3-2) in the quarterfinals and ousted No. 6 Bangor by the same score in the semifinals Wednesday night.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete also lost to Scarborough in double-overtime last season (5-4), in the semifinal round, in the best season in program history (to that point).


The squad hoped to be a top contender this winter, but won just three of its first eight games before a strong close to the season produced optimism and gave it the No. 5 seed.

After blanking No. 4 Scarborough (4-0) and ending its title reign in the quarterfinals, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete shocked top-ranked Falmouth in Wednesday’s semifinals (5-1).

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete and Thornton Academy split during the regular season, as the Golden Trojans rolled in Portland, 8-1, four days before Christmas, before South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete returned the favor with a 5-1 victory Jan. 28 on the road.

Thornton Academy won two of three prior playoff meetings, with a 5-4 victory in the 2020 quarterfinals the most recent.

Saturday, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete showed no early nerves as it carried play for 15 minutes.

But unfortunately for the underdogs, there were still 30 minutes to go and the Golden Trojans would seize control and go on and win the big prize.


Thornton Academy senior Kyle Lesieur produced the game’s first shot on a rush, but South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete senior goalie Jasper Curtis, who has been exceptional this postseason, made the save.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete then went on the attack, but senior Ben Stanley was denied by Krause, Lappin fired a one-timer off a faceoff which Krause saved, then senior Ian Wright was stopped a rush.

After Curtis saved shots from Beaudette and senior Lucas Hubbard, Stanley weaved through the defense and bid for the game’s first goal, but Krause made the save.

Then, at 7:32 of the first period, just two seconds after the midway point, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete broke through.

After taking the puck from senior Liam Anderson, Stanley set up Sykes on the doorstep and Sykes finished for a 1-0 lead.

After Curtis preserved the lead by saving a shot from freshman Jake Skillings, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete made it 2-0 at 10:35, as Sykes got the puck to Lappin and Lappin skated around the goal, then was able to beat Krause with a high shot (senior Brady Angell) also got an assist.


South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete had all the momentum, but with 1:16 left in the first period, Anderson was called for hooking on Beaudette, who managed to get a shot off which Curtis saved, and The Golden Trojans went on the power play.

Thornton Academy wasn’t able to muster a shot and South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete held a two-goal lead at the first intermission.

But that would prove to be its highwater mark.

The Golden Trojans began the second period with 44 seconds of power play and in that time, they didn’t register a shot.

But one second later, the game changed for good.

Beaudette set up Thornton Academy’s first goal by racing up the ice and he fed Pellerin for a one-timer which Curtis couldn’t stop and the deficit was just one.


“We stayed with what we were doing, play three lines and use our depth,” said Golden Trojans coach Jamie Gagnon. “I think we did a good job getting offensive opportunities (in the first period). We were a little lackadaisical in the defensive end and gave up a couple. We just had to be patient and poised. The goal early in the (second) period helped change the tide.”

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete hoped to counter, but Krause stopped shots from senior captain Richie Gilboy and senior Roan Hopkins.

Thornton Academy then bid for the equalizer and while Curtis saved shots from junior Alex Alonso, Pellerin and Lesieur and Bergeron missed just wide, with the ice tilted in the Golden Trojans’ favor, it was only a matter of time and at 7:49, Lesieur set up Pellerin for a shot Curtis couldn’t stop and just like that, the score was deadlocked, 2-2.

“We have to work a lot harder than we did in the first, or we’re not going to win it,” said Pellerin. “Ultimately, that’s what motivated us to do what we did in the second period.”

After Krause stopped Hopkins with his pad, Thornton Academy struck again at 9:46 and went ahead for good.

This time, the goal came on a rebound of a Pellerin shot, as the puck came to Marcotte and he put it home for a 3-2 advantage.


Late in the period, Hubbard broke up a chance from senior Seth Cloutier in front and at the other end, Curtis denied Lesieur on a 3-on-1, then turned aside a blast from Hubbard.

With just 40 seconds left, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete nearly drew even, but Krause saved shots from Sykes and senior Brady Angell to send the game to the second intermission with the Golden Trojans clinging to a one-goal advantage.

“It started out well today, but we just vanished from the ice in the second period,” Robinson said. “What I think happened is we got a lead and we started to deviate from what we did to get the lead. We looked for things to happen instead of make things happen. We waited for pucks to come to us instead of working for them. You can’t take a period off. You have to play the full 45.”

If the second period wasn’t frustrating enough for South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete, the third began in even worse fashion, as just 17 seconds in, Bergeron raced up the right side, then fired the puck past Curtis to stretch the lead to 4-2.

Moments later, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete went on the power play, but Gilboy had a couple good looks, senior Joey Soucy was also denied by Krause and Lappin had a shot blocked.

With 11:05 remaining, Sykes hit the post and while it appeared victory wasn’t to be for South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete, it wasn’t done yet.


After a Marcotte backhander missed an open net at one end, Soucy shot through a screen but Krause made the stop.

But with 8:55 left in regulation, Sykes scored his second goal of the game, from Wright and Stanley, and South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete had life, down just 4-3 with a lot of time left on the clock.

But after Cloutier had a shot blocked, Gilboy had a shot saved and Stanley (who was set up by Sykes) saw Krause snare his shot with his glove.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete would get two more chances to tie it up, but Soucy had a shot saved, then Krause denied Gilboy and Stanley sent the rebound high.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete’s dreams of a miracle comeback were then dashed with 4:14 remaining, as Lesieur fed the puck ahead to Beaudette, who raced in on Curtis alone and buried his shot for the coup-de-grace and a 5-3 advantage.

Any South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete hopes of pulling Curtis for an extra skater and trying to make things interesting were dashed when first Sykes was sent to the penalty box for playing with a broken stick, then Hopkins was sent off for slashing.


South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete managed one more shot, a bid from Lappin with 11 seconds to go which Krause turned aside, and at 2:45 p.m., the final horn sounded and Thornton Academy was able to celebrate its redemptive 5-3 victory.

“We just went into that third with a head of steam and put it away,” Krause said.

“It’s unbelievable,” Gagnon said. “I told the guys they’ll never forget this feeling. It’s a feeling of elation. Last year, we lost in double overtime and our season was suddenly over, but this is so much sweeter. We said last year to the guys who were returning to remember the feeling (of losing). You don’t usually get second chances in this world. To come back and have almost everything be identical, it felt like we were back in that game again and this time, we made the most of it.

“We knew (South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete’s) a good hockey team. We knew coming in that we had to be prepared for a battle. They’re solid. They’re heavy on the sticks, in the corners and in front. They play the game the right way. When they were fresh, they had the upper hand. As the game wore on, our depth proved itself. Both times we extended the lead in the third, it gave us a few minutes to keep our depth rolling.”

Thornton Academy went 0-for-3 on the power play, but Krause stopped 35 shots in his final game.

A run to remember


South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete enjoyed a 38-30 advantage in shots on goal, went 0-for-1 on the power play and got 25 saves from Curtis, but five days after the Red Riots’ boys’ basketball team won the state title, boys’ hockey wasn’t quite able to follow suit.

“This program was established in 1984 and this was our first time ever in a state game, so it was huge,” Robinson said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other group. These guys are special.”

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete loses a lot of talent to graduation, as this senior class was the most accomplished in program history.

“The seniors are great kids,” said Robinson. “They’ll be successful young men no doubt. They’re gentlemen, good students, good people. Today is a little sad, but they accomplished a lot and shouldn’t hang their heads.”

The 2023-24 squad will be led by the likes of Lappin and Sykes and while South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete will have a dramatically different look next winter, this program is accustomed to being among the last teams standing and like Thornton Academy did this year, will look to channel this year’s heartache into exhilaration next season.

“There’s still about five or six guys who will return and they’ll take this experience and pass it on to those younger than them,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, they can do that.”

Press Herald staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net

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