The puck dropped to begin the second period at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on Saturday, the York High School hockey team still feeling exceptionally good about its prospects after skating to a 15-minute deadlock with the defending Class B state champions.
And, in less than a minute, all of those good feelings were essentially wiped out. When Waterville’s top line scored a pair of goals in an 18-second span — before the first shift of the period was even over, before most fans had returned from the long concession lines during the intermission — the Purple Panthers had officially begun their march toward a second consecutive state title. First, Justin Wentworth set up Michael Bolduc for a 2-1 lead at the 0:15 mark, and then Jackson Aldrich set up a virtually identical play for Wentworth at 0:33 to make it a 3-1 game.
“In the locker room after the first period, the guys were determined that they had to go out and play all 45 minutes and bring it all out there,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said. “There’s nothing to hold back for.”
That opening shift of the middle stanza was merely a microcosm of an entire Waterville season, the ready-made YouTube clip to sum up Saturday’s 7-4 state championship win over York.
To wit: As a team, Waterville scored seven goals and registered 13 points for the game. Six of those goals — and 10 of those points — all came off the sticks of Aldrich and Wentworth.
For two seniors who amassed more than 100 points over their final two championship-winning seasons, this was not a surprise. And it shouldn’t have been any more surprising to see the pair score three goals over the final 3:34 of the third period to turn what had been a 4-4 tie into a runaway victory.
“It was the last game that they could play, and they brought everything to the table,” Martin said of his dynamic top line duo. “That’s what they’ve always done.”
Aldrich and Wentworth each scored three times against York, and each finished the day with five points. Aldrich’s senior season wrapped up with monster 34-47-81 totals, including 11 points in just three playoff games. Wentworth posted 47-29-76 for the year, himself leading the state in goals, including five in the playoffs.
“Justin was my right-hand man all season,” Aldrich said. “We had each other’s backs all season, just like our entire team had everybody’s backs. Me and Justin were just more of like a duo together. I enjoyed playing with Justin all through the years, playing for Waterville. It was a really fun experience to play here with him.”
Prior to the state title game, Wentworth had talked about surprising himself by scoring more than 40 goals this season. The approach, he said — however Bull Durham-esque — was to focus on the task in front of him.
“This completes all our goals we wanted all season,” Wentworth said. “Since that first practice, it was like, ‘We’ve got to get to work. We want that state championship. We want that back-to-back.’ The biggest thing was focusing on just one game at a time the whole year, and once we got to this point we knew we had to cap it off.”
The approach paid dividends. Teams this winter tried a variety of ways to slow Waterville’s top line, none of which really worked.
In the regional final against Old Town/Orono, the Black Bears opted to leave Aldrich alone with the puck on the perimeter while collapsing three or four bodies to Wentworth in the slot. Their reward? Wentworth’s overtime game-winner from his knees to send Waterville to the title game.
In the state final, Aldrich was constantly pressured by one or two backcheckers all over the ice — along the half wall, in the corners, behind the net. Their reward? Aldrich was more than happy to shoot when he did manage to find a inkling of space, so he scored three times, including the game-winner and an empty-netter as time expired.
“That was their goal all season, to get back here and do this with the nine seniors (on the team),” Martin said. “Just busting their hide every day in practice. They work hard every day in practice. The biggest thing is their determination — there’s no quit in these guys. They’re out there every single day.”
If there were another signature moment from the win over York, it came where one might not look for it from a 47-goal scorer. In the final minute, with the Wildcats on the power play, Wentworth laid out across the ice to block a point shot and protect Waterville’s lead.
“Blocked shots, diving, putting a stick in the lane, not letting them get clear shots, that’s really a key to our defensive game,” Wentworth said. “It worked out.”
As well it should have. You can count on one hand the number of teams with two 75-point scorers on a line that have gone on to win state championships.
“I had no clue how it was going to come out (this year),” Aldrich said. “We just wanted to come out and try to get another championship for Waterville. That’s what we completed.”
Travis Barrett — 621-5621