WATERVILLE — It took less than 90 seconds for an impressive Kennebec RiverHawks effort to turn into something Kennebec coach Jon Hart coined “a missed opportunity” Monday.

The RiverHawks got goals from John Evans and Tom Tibbetts and held off a furious final push from visiting Brewer, holding off the Witches for a 2-1 win in a matchup of two playoff-bound Class B North teams at Alfond Rink. Sophomore Bryce Gunzinger made 15 saves as Kennebec (6-5-0) won for the third time in its last four games.

“That was a missed opportunity for us to make a statement,” Hart said. “We were good until about 1:30 (remaining). We’ve got a lot to learn on the smart side of it. We didn’t bring our A-game every shift.

“We’re better than we played today.”

Even still, the RiverHawks were within a Ben Byorak goal with 1:21 remaining in regulation of posting their second shutout in a five-day span, having earned Gunzinger’s first blanking of the season last Wednesday at Camden Hills. In one of the rare instances where Kennebec failed to make the safe play off the boards and out into the neutral zone, the Riverhawks turned the puck over after winning a faceoff in their end.

From there the Witches (4-6-0) crashed the net with force, where Byorak was able to finish off Trey Baker’s feed.

The goal came just seven seconds after Brewer had called timeout, pulling netminder Tyler St. Lawrence (21 saves) and regrouping in time to snap a scoreless streak of more than 100 minutes dating back to the second period of a loss Wednesday to Old Town/Orono.

The Witches managed only 10 shots through the first two periods against Kennebec and were handcuffed by a power play that went 0 for 4 with only two shots.

“The penalty kill was amazing today,” Kennebec senior defenseman Nick West said. “We got the puck, and we got it off our sticks quick. They couldn’t set up. We were everywhere. We were flying today.”

The Kennebec penalty kill was a microcosm of the things they did well for most of Monday’s morning start. The RiverHawks were routinely effective in their puck management, playing pucks out when the opportunity was there, banging pucks deep into the Brewer zone and not turning it over carelessly in dangerous areas of the ice.

That made Gunzinger’s day easier.

“I saw my defense playing really well. They don’t always get the credit that they deserve, they don’t get the credit the offense does,” Gunzinger said. “They kept the front of the net clean and I didn’t have to face many tough shots, really.”

Gunzinger wasn’t tested with regularity, but he was tested. In the final minute of the first period, Kennebec senior defenseman Hunter Brown elected to make a bad pinch at the offensive blue line to set up a two-on-one for Brewer’s Byorak and Jack Watkins. Brown’s quick backcheck knocked the puck off Byorak’s stick, but Watkins followed the play and forced a great save at the near post by Gunzinger.

Gunzinger made a solid positional save in traffic on a puck he never saw midway through the third period, and with two and a half minutes remaining in regulation, his stick save at the far post on Byorak’s partial breakaway kept the Witches off the board for the time being.

“The momentum of your team playing well in the offensive zone carries into the defensive zone,” Gunzinger said. “I think the way the team is playing, it carries over into the way the goalie plays. You just have to make the initial stop and let the defense take care of the rebounds. Personally, I don’t like giving up rebounds, but I feel safe with my defensemen. They do a great job clearing it out and transitioning into the offensive zone.”

The RiverHawks got started early with Evans’ goal just 2:04 into the contest after a Brewer turnover deep in its own zone, and Tibbetts stretched the lead to 2-0 on a breakaway at the 13:15 mark of the second period.

The two goals were more than enough for the RiverHawks to see through for the win.

“Defense is the most important part of the game,” West said. “If the other team can’t score, then obviously they can’t win.”

“I would have been happy if we had held on to the 2-0 (lead),” Hart said. “That would have showed a lot of character. We’ve still got a little ways to go.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.