LEWISTON — It was a fitting conclusion, the two most prolific scorers in Maine high school hockey this winter, shrouded in a school banner and lugging a trophy around the ice, posing for pictures and sharing hugs all over the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Jackson Aldrich and Justin Wentworth capped brilliant senior seasons, each registering a hat trick as part of Waterville Senior High School’s 7-4 victory over York in the Class B state title game Saturday afternoon. It was the second consecutive state title and 22nd overall for the Purple Panthers, who won their first crown in 1927.
Waterville, which finished 20-1-0, hasn’t lost to a Class B foe since the 2015 regional semifinals.
Aldrich finished with five points against York (17-3-1), bringing his point total to 81 for the season. His second goal, with 3:34 remaining in the third period, snapped a 4-4 tie before he later reluctantly added an empty netter as time expired to finish off his hat trick.
“We knew we had to complete the game. We had to finish the way we usually finish games, which is by winning,” said Aldrich, who scored 34 goals this season. “We just had to have the right attitude.”
“When they scored, we all looked at each other and said, ‘OK, now we just need one more,'” Wentworth added. “That’s the greatest part about this family. Our heads never dropped. We just kept it going.”
A tightly played third period produced Jacob Martin’s equalizing goal for York at the 8:12 mark. Martin figured in all four Wildcat goals as York battled back from a 4-1 deficit to make for some dicey final moments.
Martin’s goal set the stage for Aldrich’s tie-breaker and for Wentworth, who added insurance at 13:37 by capitalizing when York’s defensemen — in full desperation mode — were caught pinching at the left point to set up a breakaway strike.
“There wasn’t much to say,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said of York tying the game late in the final period. “They knew that obviously we needed to get the next goal, and it just came down to working hard. The tougher the situation, the harder these guys worked to try and make something happen.”
York coach Jim Powers was pleased with his team’s ability to battle back from a tough situation late in the second period.
“They’ve got some very good defensemen and some skilled forwards and they made it tough,” Powers said. “We didn’t back down, we battled back, but they beat us to the finish.”
Aldrich was instrumental in a good start for Waterville, which broke open a tie game with two goals on the first shift of the second period.
After York goalie Keenan Gamache (24 saves) was brilliant in the opening frame to let the Wildcats find their legs into the game, the Purple Panthers stormed out following the intermission. Wentworth centered from behind the net to an unchecked Michael Bolduc in the slot, and Bolduc swept his shot inside the right post along the ice for a 2-1 lead just 15 seconds in. Waterville won the ensuing face-off, charged up the ice and — in eerily similar fashion — Aldrich spotted Wentworth for a bang-bang goal only 18 seconds later.
“Once we got to this point (playing for the state championship), we knew we just had to cap it off,” said Wentworth, who finished with 47 goals this season. “Once one of us has the puck, if someone swarms to us, it leaves someone open. It gives us a lane. We’ve been playing for this our whole lives.”
Wentworth, who like Aldrich had three goals and two assists, made it a 4-1 game at the 12:24 mark, keeping the puck on a 3-on-1 rush for himself and beating Gamache from the left circle.
York wasn’t finished, however, as it scored twice in the final 2:13 of the period to cut the deficit to just a goal entering the third. Spencer Pickett and Andrew Bertolini, the overtime hero in a regional final win over Greely on Wednesday, each potted goals to make it a 4-3 game.
“Obviously, they’re a good hockey team over there,” Martin said. “You knew they weren’t going to fold, or they wouldn’t have gotten here.”
Aldrich and York’s Julius Lundgren traded first-period goals just 19 seconds apart. Gamache made 12 stops in a period that could have been one-sided, thanks to a quick, high-pressure start from the Purple Panthers.
“He has a knack for making these huge saves that either get us back into the game or keep us where we were,” Powers said of his netminder. “He did that consistently for us all year long. He’s a fierce competitor.”
So, too, are Aldrich and Wentworth.
“I was never thinking about points, and I don’t think Justin was either,” Aldrich said. “We cared about the one goal. Our team motto was ‘one team, one goal’ throughout the year, and our goal was to win the championship. We did it.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621