FALMOUTH—We knew there wasn’t much separation between the top teams in the Class A boys’ hockey playoff field, but Friday evening at Family Ice Center, the fourth-ranked Falmouth Navigators and fifth-seeded, reigning state champion Thornton Academy Golden Trojans took it to another extreme.

In an unforgettable three hour tour of drama, momentum swings, big plays and near misses that finally produced a winner deep into the night.

The Navigators came out strong and took a quick 2-0 lead behind first period goals from sophomore Cale Hanson and senior Joe Fishetto, but as it turned out, the Golden Trojans weren’t about to go quietly.

Thornton Academy pulled even in a 24-second span in the second period, as sophomore Trent Lesieur and junior Gavin Pellerin found the net, but with 6:59 remaining, junior Jack Turgeon tipped in sophomore Jacoby Porter’s shot on the power play and Falmouth was back in front.

The Navigators, behind junior goalie Brandon White, protected that lead until just 1:52 remained in regulation, when sophomore Nick Downing scored to pull the Golden Trojans even.

And the fun was just beginning.


Neither team scored the rest of regulation, in an eight-minute overtime, a second OT, or a third and the contest went to a fourth before finally being settled.

After failing to convert a power play opportunity to start the fourth overtime, Thornton Academy stuck with it and 2 minutes, 8 seconds in, sophomore Jake Skillings brought the festivities to a conclusion, giving the Golden Trojans a memorable 4-3 victory.

Thornton Academy improved to 13-6, advanced to take on top-ranked Lewiston (15-4) in the state semifinals Wednesday at a time to be announced at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and in the process, ended Falmouth’s season at 11-7-1.

“It’s somewhat relief but certainly exhilaration when you can come out on the positive side in a game like this,” said Golden Trojans coach Jamie Gagnon. “(Falmouth’s) a well-coached, gritty team. We knew if we played 100 times it would be 50-50.”

Forty-five minutes and more

Class A has been devoid of a favorite all winter and the postseason is no exception, as pretty much every team that made the field could make a case that it could make a deep run.


With Falmouth and Thornton Academy heading that list.

The Golden Trojans, who lost in agonizing double-overtime fashion in the 2022 state game to Scarborough, reached the pinnacle last winter, holding off the South Portland/Waynflete/Freeport co-op team, 5-3, in the final game. Thornton Academy started the 2023-24 campaign red-hot with six straight victories, but went just 6-6 after that., including a 1-4 stretch to close.

The Navigators, meanwhile, who were beaten by South Portland/Waynflete/Freeport in last year’s state semifinals, won just twice in their first five outings, but rattled off six straight victories in one stretch before losing to Lewiston and tying St. Dom’s to finish.

The teams split during the regular season, each winning on the road, with the Golden Trojans prevailing, 2-1, Dec. 21 in Falmouth and the Navigators enjoying a 3-1 victory Feb. 17 in Biddeford.

The teams had also split six prior playoff encounters, with Thornton Academy winning the most recent, 2-1, two years ago in the state quarterfinals.

Friday, in front of a capacity crowd and then some, the Golden Trojans did it again, but they had to persevere, believe and ultimately capitalize on their golden opportunity to advance.


Falmouth junior Henry Whiting and Thornton Academy senior Alex Alonso battle for the puck early in the Golden Trojans’ 4-3, four-overtime victory in Friday’s Class A quarterfinals. Hoffer photos.

Both goalies stood tall early, as Thornton Academy junior Drew Johnson saved shots from Porter, junior Thomas Healey and senior John Carpenter, while White denied Downing on a rush, turned away a shot from senior Jacob Marcotte then snared a Skillings shot with his glove.

Falmouth opened the scoring at 6:18 of the first period, thanks to a fortuitous bounce, as the puck was played in harmlessly, but bounced off the boards right to Hanson, who buried it. Freshman Ramsey Hinkley got the assist.

At 8:30, the Navigators doubled their lead, as junior Henry Whiting got the puck to Fishetto, who raced in, got around a defender, then found the net and it appeared the home team was on its way.

But not so fast.

The Golden Trojans weren’t able to answer in the first period but settled in and got some chances.

After Healey came within inches of giving Falmouth a three-goal lead when his shot in front just missed the mark, Thornton Academy went on the power play and freshman Brennan Tabor missed wide, Lesieur was denied on a breakway, then Tabor had another shot saved and the rebound was cleared out of harm’s way.


With 1:20 to go, the Golden Trojans got another power play chance and while Marcotte sent a shot just wide of an open net, Thornton Academy knew it would start the second period man-up.

The Golden Trojans didn’t break through on the power play, but they would get their offense going soon enough.

After White twice denied Marcotte early in the period, Thornton Academy got on the board at 4:24, as Downing got the puck to Skillings, who sent the puck in front where Lesieur back-handed it home to cut the deficit in half.

And a mere 24 seconds later, the Golden Trojans drew even, as junior Brady Pecora raced in and set up Pellerin on the doorstep for a shot that White couldn’t stop and just like that, the game was deadlocked, 2-2.

Thornton Academy then looked for the lead, but junior Cameron Cyr missed wide.

Pellerin was then sent to the penalty box and after the Golden Trojans just missed on a short-handed opportunity, when White saved a Downing shot and the rebound was cleared, Falmouth went back in front at 8:01.


On the power play, Porter sent the puck in and Turgeon managed to redirect it past Johnson and in for a 3-2 lead.

Falmouth sophomore Jacoby Porter (17) celebrates with junior Jack Turgeon after Turgeon’s go-ahead goal in the second period.

Thornton Academy then tried to pull even again, but White saved shots from Tabor and Pecora, while at the other end, Johnson kept the deficit at one by robbing senior Rowan Hagerty on a rush and after the Navigators went on the power play, junior Isaac Laliberte had a shot saved by Johnson.

The Golden Trojans came out strong in the third period hoping to pull even and they would eventually do so.

Initially, White was able to stymie Marcotte with his glove, saved a shot from Downing through traffic, then he saved a shot from Lesieur and a rebound bid from Downing.

Later in the period, Marcotte eluded the defense and skated in alone, but shot high. After Alonso missed wide, White saved a shot from Downing, then with 2:04 remaining, he made a glove save with a flourish on a shot from Marcotte.

But with 1:52 on the clock, Thornton Academy got the equalizer, as Lesieur passed off the boards to Downing, who fired a shot from the side of the goal off White’s pads and in.


After Johnson saved a shot from Whiting and White denied Downing, regulation came to a close.

After a five-minute rest period, the contest went to “sudden victory” overtime, an eight-minute session meant to determine a winner.

Both teams were confident going in.

“The message to the guys is simple. It’s, ‘Look, everything you’ve learned all season long, there’s nothing we can coach you up on at this point. What matters is the will to win. Play your heart out and the hockey goals will decide what happens,'” said Falmouth coach Deron Barton.

“We told the guys to play safe and be the more experienced team,” said Gagnon. “To lean on our seniors and guys who had been there before.”

In the first OT, Laliberte had the first look, but Johnson made the save. At the other end, Pellerin missed wide on a rush and Falmouth had a power play chance, but couldn’t manage a shot, sending the contest to a second overtime.


There, after a break to resurface the ice, Thornton Academy had several great looks to win it, but couldn’t do so.

After Johnson denied Healey twice, the Golden Trojans went on the attack, but Turgeon broke up a Pecora rush, then with 4:02 on the clock, senior Thomas Verreault got the puck past White, but it rang off the post, extending the game.

After Marcotte barely missed, Skillings raced in only to be denied, then inside the final minute, White saved a Pecora shot and he saved a rebound attempt from Pellerin as well.

The third overtime saw the ice tilt back in Falmouth’s favor, but the Navigators couldn’t finish.

Just 21 seconds in, Johnson made his finest save, sticking out his left pad at the last moment to rob senior Andrew Belliveau.

Johnson then stopped a pair of shots from Laliberte, a rebound from Whiting, a shot from Hagerty and a blast from Healey, which deflected off his glove and just over the goal.


Thornton Academy then tried to end it, but Marcotte missed just wide, Cyr had a shot saved by White, then White stopped three shots from Downing.

Falmouth then pressured and the Golden Trojans couldn’t clear the puck, leading to a shot from Fishetto, which Johnson saved.

With 21 seconds remaining, Hinkley was sent off for slashing and Thornton Academy went on the power play, but couldn’t generate a shot before the end of the period.

The scoreboard tells the story during the intermission between the third and fourth overtimes.

So again, the teams retreated to their locker rooms, the ice was resurfaced and the Golden Trojans came out for the fourth OT seeking a power play goal that would send them to the semifinals.

Thornton Academy would eventually get the goal, but not on the power play.

White denied Marcotte just 33 seconds in, then junior Gavin Corson sent a shot just wide.


But after the penalty expired, the Golden Trojans managed to keep pressure on and earned a faceoff that led to the game-winner.

Thornton Academy won possession, worked the puck around, then sent it in where both Skillings and Lesieur were waiting, but it would be Skillings gaining possession for a split second, then firing the puck past White and into the net with 5:52 on the clock.

“I thought the defenseman was going to rip it, but he passed it to me and I pulled it forehand and got it in the net,” said Skillings. “I got lucky. I had a chance to bury it and I did.”

“I think both teams were gassed and digging deep,” Gagnon said. “It was going to be something around the crease. We had to get guys there, but it’s not easy against that team. (Jake) was frustrated in the last overtime, so it was nice for him to finally get it.”

“Right place, right time,” Barton lamented. “Fatigue sets in. Under normal circumstances, we practice blocking that shot. That’s playoff overtime.”

At 9:20 p.m., three hours after the game began, Thornton Academy raced to the far end of the ice to where its fan section was located, then finally celebrated its 4-3 victory.


Thornton Academy players skate toward the fans at the conclusion of Friday’s victory.

“We worked hard and I felt like we deserved the win,” Skillings said. “We just didn’t want to give up. It was a good game and it was an amazing celebration. It’s a lot of pressure, but we knew we had to fight back and defend our title.”

“It was such an exciting celebration,” Johnson said. “I’ve never played a game that was this long. ”

“There’s only so much you can say when you (go into the locker room) about 17 times,” Gagnon added. “All the credit to the guys for battling and we couldn’t have asked for a better opponent.”

The Golden Trojans had a 59-56 advantage in shots on goal and got a mind-boggling 53 saves from Johnson.

“It was tiring but fun at the same time,” Johnson said. “At times I felt pressure, but I knew we would get it done. I was confident. First intermission, I talked to the coaches and they gave me a pep talk and it really worked. I just tried to drink enough fluids and not get tired.”

“(Drew) played his heart out,” said Skillings. “Big props to him.”


“(Drew) got some bad bounces early, then he settled down and did a tremendous job,” added Gagnon. “They got some really good looks and he was able to swallow it  or cover it up and get a whistle. I can’t say enough about him. He’s done that for us all year.”

Looking ahead to Wednesday, Thornton Academy lost its regular season meeting with Lewiston, 2-1 on the road, Jan. 13, but is eager to avenge that setback on the big stage.

“We’ll enjoy this for a couple days,” Skillings said. “We just need to play our game, get pucks deep.”

“We just have to keep it going,” Johnson said. “We have to play smart and I think we can get it done.”

“We’re looking forward to it,” added Gagnon. “We didn’t get a chance to play Lewiston twice. Last time, we were pretty ill. We’ll give them our best game.”

A championship effort


Falmouth, which has previously lost playoff games in five overtimes (to Greely in the 1998 Western B semifinals) and four OTs (to Cape Elizabeth (in the 2000 Western B semifinals) got 55 saves from White, but it wasn’t enough.

“I told the guys to keep their heads up,” said Barton. ” I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of (Thornton Academy’s) guys too. It was just a great experience for everybody. Four overtimes and it was a bounce here, a bounce there. Both teams played well enough to win and there’s absolutely no reason to hang your head. When it gets into overtime, it’s just anybody’s game. We had an opportunity to win the hockey game in regulation and we let it slip away, which is haunting.

“From what we lost last season in goal scoring and point production and where we came from to where we are now, it’s amazing. We had younger guys with zero experience stepping into roles. I’m very proud of them.”

The Navigators will miss their seniors, but a lot of younger players received trial by fire this winter and will be even stronger in 2024-25 when Falmouth will channel this year’s heartbreak into what it hopes is an even deeper run.

Perhaps next time around, the Navigators will get the bounces to go in their favor.

“We’re looking forward to next year,” Barton said. “We have a strong contingent of sophomores and juniors coming back. We’ll reload.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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