HALLOWELL — The Gardiner hockey team knows it’s going to take a monumental effort in the second half of the regular season to ascend from the Western B basement and clinch one of the five playoff berths.
So far, so good.
Hunter Belanger and Alex Nadeau each scored a pair of goals to lead Gardiner past Leavitt 5-3 in a Western B game Thursday afternoon at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault.
The Tigers (3-6-1) won their second straight game after reaching the midway point of the season.
“We had to have it,” Gardiner coach Jeff Ross said. “We knew that going in. The second half of the season was going to be important for us. We knew these were games we had to have. We think we have a better opportunity to compete with these teams in the second half. All the teams we play are sitting in our playoff spot.”
Leavitt (3-6-1) entered the game just ahead of Gardiner in Heal points. The Hornets have dropped five of their last six games.
Logan Peacock also scored a goal and Brad Moore stopped 19 shots for Gardiner, which led 1-0 after the first period and 2-1 after the second.
“We needed to win this game,” Belanger said. “Right now, we’re not standing too good.”
Added Gardiner senior captain defenseman Seth Wing: “It’s a big win. It’s our second win in a week. I think this is the hungriest we’ve been in four years.”
The Tigers broke open the game when they scored a pair of goals six minutes into the third.
Nadeau got the first one 35 seconds into the period before Belanger scored on an empty-net breakaway with the Tigers short-handed. Trailing 3-1, Leavitt decided to pull goalie Nick Allen (26 saves) when it went on the power play with about 10 minutes left in the third. The move backfired when Belanger grabbed control of the puck along the Gardiner blueline, outhustled a defender and raced in alone on an empty net.
“I didn’t realize the net was empty,” Belanger said. “I was working my butt off to try to outskate a kid. I looked up and didn’t know whether to deke or shoot, and it made my decision easy.”
The goal gave Gardiner a 4-1 lead with 9:08 left in the third. Belanger scored his second of the game a little less than four minutes later.
Leavitt would rally with a pair of power-play goals in the final minute. The Hornets capitalized when Gardiner senior Austin Moore was assessed a game disqualification for a high hit to one of their forwards.
A visibly upset Ross said he apologized to Leavitt coach Dave Boucher for the hit.
Kevin Knight had a goal and two assists for the Hornets.
Bill Stewart — 621-5640