HALLOWELL — The state’s first and only 20-goal scorer made his presence felt in the biggest regular season game on Waterville Senior High School’s schedule.

Senior center Justin Wentworth scored twice in the second period en route to a hat trick on Saturday night, and the Purple Panthers scored a significant 5-3 win over Gardiner in a matchup of the two Class B hockey division leaders at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault.

Waterville, the reigning Class B state champion, leads Class B North with a perfect 8-0-0 mark. Gardiner, meanwhile, entered the game atop the Class B South standings and dropped to 5-2-0.

“We knew were were going to have to step it up,” said Wentworth, who scored once on the power play, once shorthanded and once at even strength. “We take things one game at a time, but we also knew that this was a big one for us.”

Cody Pellerin and Matt Jolicoeur also scored for Waterville, while Nathan Pinnette made 19 saves. Connor Manter, Tristan Hebert and Tanner Hebert accounted for the Gardiner goals, with Michael Poirier making 22 saves between the pipes.

In what could easily have been a preview of the Class B state title game later this winter, the Panthers put their skill and speed to the test against a big and defensively determined Tiger squad. The difference, at least on Saturday night, proved to be Wentworth in a physical game that was marked by solid, dominant stretches of play from both teams.

“We knew coming in that this was going to be our biggest challenge yet,” said Wentworth, who leads all scorers in Maine with 30 points. “The biggest thing was just keeping our heads. It all starts with the mental part of it, and I think we really kept that tonight. That’s what led us out.”

Jolicoeur (on the power play) and Wentworth (shorthanded) scored in the first 3:53 of the third period to blow open a one-goal game. Wentworth’s shorty capped his hat trick and handed the Panthers a 5-2 lead.

Penalties were in many ways the undoing of Gardiner, which took a total of seven minors. Waterville went 2-for-7 on the power play, but whatever momentum the Tigers created took a bigger hit than the scoreboard each time one of them skated off to the penalty box.

“We took some dumb penalties,” Gardiner head coach Sam Moore said. “Kids got frustrated, and you can’t do that against a team like Waterville. Penalties take momentum away. We’ve been taking too many penalties all year, and you just can’t do that.”

Wentworth scored the first of his two second-period goals while on the power play to give Waterville the lead for good. Just seconds after Poirier had robbed Jackson Aldrich with a glove save at the right post, a harmless, backhand centering pass from Wentworth found space through the Tiger netminder’s pads at the 4:35 mark.

The lead grew to 3-1 when Wentworth struck again at 8:03, chipping the puck past a Gardiner defenseman at the offensive blue line and racing in to slip a shot through Poirier.

“It’s really everybody on that line. (Wentworth’s) linemates are working really hard to get him the puck,” Waterville head coach Dennis Martin said. “It seems like everything he’s doing, it’s going in. It’s a team effort. Those guys are working hard and Justin’s getting to the net. Right now, it’s going well for him.”

The Tigers weren’t finished, however, as the forecheck they’d established in the first period finally gained some traction in the second. Tanner Hebert forced a turnover below the goal line and centered into the slot, where Tristan Hebert muscled his way to the puck and snapped his shot home to make it a 3-2 game through two periods.

“We weren’t moving the puck like we have been (early in the game),” Martin said. “They were wreaking a little bit of havoc with us, and some of our puck decisions were off. They finish their checks.”

Waterville senior defenseman Andrew Roderigue said the Panthers needed to make some adjustments on the breakout in order to relieve some of the Gardiner pressure over the second half of the game.

“I thought we were doing a lot of running around and forgetting what we were supposed to be doing,” Roderigue said. “They’re definitely a more physical team than we’ve been playing. That’s another thing we’ve got to adjust to. We’ve got to not let them get in our heads and just go out and play the game of hockey.”

Manter gave Gardiner the early 1-0 lead midway through the first period, sweeping home the rebound of a Tristan Hebert rush to the goal mouth. Waterville equalized off the stick of Pellerin with just over a minute remaining in the frame.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC


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