If you’re looking for moral victories, don’t go asking Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth coach Chad Foye or Waterville’s Dennis Martin to point them out.
The Rams dropped a 2-1 decision to rival Gardiner on Friday afternoon, and while Foye liked some of what he saw from his team, he was quick to point out areas that need improvement with just three regular season games remaining.
“I’m not a big ‘moral victory’ guy. If you win, you win and if you don’t, you don’t,” said Foye, whose team outshot Class B South-leading Gardiner by a 36-19 margin in the loss. “I thought we did do some really good things (against Gardiner), and we gave ourselves a chance at the end.”
With the defeat, Cony (10-5-0) dropped from second to fourth in the Class A North standings. Positions two through four are separated by just nine points. The difference between finishing second and fourth is the difference between a bye into the regional semifinals or having to host a quarterfinal game.
Cony hosts No. 3 St. Dom’s on Saturday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault.
“There were some areas of the game where we’ve improved,” Foye said. “I thought we had some guys who really stepped up and played hard. I thought Reed Hopkins played really well, stepping up and moving his feet. Avery (Pomerleau) played better in the third period and was going well. We had a number of guys step up and really work hard. Our defense played well.”
Just a few miles up Interstate 95 the next afternoon, Waterville found a way to battle through bad ice conditions and a hot goalie to post a 3-1 win over Houlton/Hodgdon/Southern Aroostook/Katahdin at Colby College’s Alfond Rink.
Waterville’s average margin of victory is eight goals per game, so Saturday provided a different kind of test. “You win a game where you don’t always have your best stuff, well, that helps, too,” Martin said. “It’s not like we played awful. Every (result) is good for us. Like we always talk about, we only play one game at a time. We just look at the next opponent.”
Senior center Justin Wentworth, who scored his team-leading 39th goal of the season in the win over the Blackhawks, thought the game was good for the team.
“Absolutely a character-builder, for sure,” said Wentworth, pointing out that the team missed a couple of practices due to winter storms and school closures last week. “We definitely realized that we wanted to move the puck more and come together as a team more. We were kind of slacking, but like I said, not having practice has been killing us. It will be good to get back to that.”
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It’s not an overstatement to suggest that Messalonskee’s game against Camden Hills on Wednesday could make or break its season. But that’s not the way the team is approaching it.
“We’re just approaching like we do any other game. We’re going to take it shift by shift, period by period,” Messalonskee coach Kevin Castner said. “We’re trying not to focus too much on the aftermath of whether or not we win or lose, we’re just preparing for the game like any other game.”
Messalonskee (5-10-1) has a tenuous grip on the seventh and final playoff spot in Class B North, just a few Heal points ahead of Camden Hills. The Windjammers handed the Eagles a 3-1 loss on Feb. 1, part of a nine-game winless stretch (0-8-1) for Messalonskee that saw its once comfortable playoff cushion evaporate.
Messalonskee finally snapped its skid with a 7-2 win over Winslow on Saturday.
“The big issue we have is finishing out the games,” said Castner, whose team gave up five third-period goals to Waterville and saw a two-goal lead over Cony disappear when the Rams scored four times in the final frame. “The third period has been our downfall. We’ve let a lot of games slide, whether it’s conditioning, illness, bad hops, whatever, you can go on and on. The bottom line is we need to focus on putting the entire game together,”
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Gardiner (11-4-0) features big, skilled forwards and veteran experience on the blue line. But it’s no secret that the team’s backbone lies squarely between the pipes in the form of senior goaltender Michael Poirier.
Poirier has played in all 15 games for the Tigers, posting a goals against average of 2.60 and a save percentage that’s above .900.
“He’s upper echelon, for sure,” Foye said after Poirier came within seven and a half minutes of blanking his Rams. “A lot of it is just his demeanor. He just never gets rattled, and he made a lot of saves where I thought we had chances and he made it look easy. That’s the sign of a good goaltender. He’s just really good at his angles and stays square with the puck really well.”
Gardiner coach Sam Moore admits it’s hard not to take the netminder for granted.
“He covers a lot of mistakes,” Moore said. “You can’t rattle him. He’s mentally tough and it doesn’t matter how much action there is around him, he’s always got his head there and seems to be in the right position.”
Asked if his game against Cony was the best he’s played this season, Poirier paused and then looked at his coach.
“It ranks right up there,” Moore told him.
“What coach said,” Poirier added.
“It’s all about keeping your eye on the puck and tracking it to where it hits me and then just making sure I’m covering rebounds,” Poirier said of his success. “It’s big (to beat Cony). It will be a confidence-booster for us. We know they’re good in Class A North.”
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With the sudden and unforeseen closure of Sukee Arena just prior to the start of the season, area teams were left scrambling to find ice time. No team was hurt more than the Winslow/Gardiner girls.
Despite the giant scheduling obstacle thrown in front of a brand new cooperative effort, the Black Tigers persevered and finished with a 10-win season for the first time in five years and made the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. The campaign ended with a 5-3 loss to Brunswick in the North regional quarterfinals last week.
“There were weeks where we only had one practice, and there were some weeks where we didn’t practice at all,” said Winslow/Gardiner coach Chris Downing, who on a couple of occasions this winter had to bag varsity practice in favor of getting a junior varsity game in.
And when the Black Tigers fell behind 4-1 through two periods against the Dragons, time simply ran out.
“That in itself shows you that when you don’t have practice time, you get tired,” Downing said. “We just haven’t had enough ice time to do that.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621