HALLOWELL — Time and again this season, special teams have dictated outcomes for the Gardiner boys hockey team. Saturday night was no exception.

This time, though, it wasn’t because the Tigers couldn’t stay out of the penalty box.

Gardiner used a late major penalty to Hampden Academy to tie the game with less than two minutes remaining, only to see Bronco senior Cooper Leland score a shorthanded goal 19 seconds later to lift Hampden to a 4-3 win in a Class B North game at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault. The Broncos (9-0-2) remained the lone unbeaten team in the league thanks to Leland’s team-leading 13th goal of the season.

“This was definitely a character win,” Leland said.

“We’re just trying to work hard every night, get better every shift and every period,” Hampden coach Eric MacDonald said. “Every game, that’s our goal. It wasn’t our best game tonight, but that’s a good team and they’re well-coached. We just tried to stick to our game plan the best we could.”

An 2-0 Gardiner lead evaporated by the 9:03 mark of the third period, when Hampden’s Cameron Henderson scored his second of the night with a shot redirected by a Tiger defenseman high in the left wing circle.

That goal gave the Broncos a 3-2 lead and set the stage for a wild final few minutes.

Hampden’s Owen Cross was handed a five-minute major for boarding with 2:44 remaining, and the Tigers (6-5-0) got to work with Jake Weston’s power-play goal to tie the score at 13:09.

The jubilation along the Gardiner bench was short-lived, however.

Leland picked up a loose puck in his own zone and was off to the races, beating Gardiner goalie Max Dearborn (23 saves) on a partial breakaway — cutting the puck onto his backhand and tucking the puck through Dearborn’s pads for what would prove to be the winner.

“I was just bee-lining for the net and went to my backhand,” Leland said. “When they have the puck, we’re looking for defense, we’re looking to be conservative and just cover all the lanes. But once a puck dribbles, then we’re on it and we want to go on the offense.”

It was the second time Hampden answered a Gardiner goal with a score of its own in the very next shift.

“We don’t give up. We bounce back,” Leland said. “That’s what we’re good at. We didn’t come out as hard as we’d like to tonight, so that’s what we had to do. We had to bounce back, and we  just stayed resilient.”

“They’re good. They’re deep,” Gardiner coach Tyler Wing said of Hampden. “They capitalize on most mistakes that are made by the other team, which I can respect. They’re very good. Their placement in the division (third entering the weekend) doesn’t justify their play.

“They showed us they’re here for real.”

Gardiner was the much better team out of the starting gates, and the Tigers were rewarded for a dominant first period with Ryan Kimball’s goal at the 14:51 mark.

Alex Grover turned a neutral zone turnover by the Broncos into a 2-0 lead for Gardiner less than three minutes into the second period.

Khaleb Hale put the Broncos on the board with his ninth goal of the season 45 seconds after Grover’s goal.

“It was a slow start, but we just tried to regroup and keep working through it,” MacDonald said. “That’s what we tried to do. That was the message throughout the game — we just have to dig deep and keep working.”

Cooper Ryan made 20 saves for Hampden.


CAMDEN HILLS 8, CONY/HALL-DALE/MONMOUTH 1: The Windjammers scored four goals in a span of 5:23 in the first period and the rout was on against a Rams team playing for the third time in four days.

Senior Charlie Greibel netted a hat trick in the win for Camden Hills (7-3-2), who scored the game’s first seven goals. Levi Guay, Jakob Johnson, Ben Wells, Andrew Orne and Hayden Thibault also netted goals. Jackson Bernier made nine saves for the win.

Cony (7-6-0) got 25 saves from Matty Shea in the nets. Jacob Varney broke up the Windjammers’ shutout bid with his first goal of the season for the Rams.

The game was marred by 41 minutes in penalties, including 29 of those in the final period.

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