HALLOWELL — As usual, Gardiner and Cony hockey brought a plus-sized crowd to the Bank of Maine Ice Vault. What wasn’t usual was that Gardiner came away with the win.

The Tigers, who have no seniors and three juniors on their roster, came within 33 seconds of a shutout and skated away with a 2-1 victory over Cony on Saturday night.

“I think it’s an important step in their growth, to be honest with you,” Gardiner coach Jeff Ross said. “It was a full house — they’re probably not going to see a full house like this the rest of the year. Cony-Gardiner rivalry’s a great rivalry, and they showed what they can do. It was important for us to get a couple of early wins, and put some pucks in the net, and do some good things.”

The crowd filled the bleachers and most of the balcony. Whenever there was a chance to yell, the fans took advantage of it.

“It got the nerves going at the beginning of the game,” said Gardiner sophomore Sarah Morgan, “but as the time went on, the fans really kind of helped us, and kept us through it.”

Morgan scored 5:15 into the first period, a little over a minute after Cony killed off a penalty. Jake Folsom took a shot from the left side that bounced off Cony goalie Tommy Small. Morgan swooped in on the left post and stuffed the puck in for a 1-0 lead.

“I knew that we needed to get jump-started, because last year we got jump-started and we didn’t keep it,” Morgan said. “I saw Jake crashing the net, and I just knew that I had to get there because we might get a rebound, and there I was.”

It looked like the Tigers would extend the lead when Cony took two penalties 49 seconds apart in the second period. But just before the second penalty ended, Gardiner’s Connor Manter was assessed a five-minute major for boarding. Despite being short-handed for five minutes, the Tigers would not let go of their slim lead.

“Our penalty kill has been all right of late, but it hasn’t been great,” Ross said. “It didn’t do real well against Camden, but I thought we did really well tonight. We were aggressive. It was right on the heels of having a 5-on-3 that we didn’t capitalize on, so it was a big momentum shift. If that had gone the other way, we’d have been in trouble.”

Instead, the score was still 1-0 until 4:53 into the third period. Tristan Hebert was behind the net and fed Reid Cotnoir in the slot, and Cotnoir drilled a shot top shelf for a 2-0 Gardiner lead.

“I thought we worked hard, but we’re going backward execution-wise,” Cony coach Chad Foye said. “A couple times we let down, they scored. And I just don’t think we executed very well. I think Gardiner played really well. I thought their goalie did very good. Their forwards skated the puck really hard, got some shots on goal. I just don’t think we controlled the puck as well as we’re capable of. I think they did, and that was the difference in the game.”

Part of Cony’s funk is probably attributable to the Rams’ uneven schedule. Cony has played only one other game this season — a 6-0 loss to Edward Little on Wednesday — and has had three games postponed.

“That hurts, but there’s nothing you can do about that,” Foye said. “That’s Maine in the wintertime. You just gotta roll with that and play.”

Gardiner (2-2) took a penalty with 2:04 left in the game, and Cony scored with goalie Tommy Small out of the net. Spenser Buck sent it in from the left point, with assists going to Drew Keithley and Avery Pomerleau. It was the only goal allowed by Gardiner goalie Michael Poirier, who made 24 saves.

Gardiner is off until next Saturday, while Cony is back on the ice at the Ice Vault on Tuesday against Lewiston.

“I just want to see us make smarter decisions, and control the puck better,” Foye said.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo

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