BREWER — After a one-year absence, the Hampden Academy boys hockey team is back in the regional semifinals.

Powered by a six-point night from senior center Cooper Leland, the top-seeded Broncos recovered from a lackluster start, handing No. 8 Kennebec an 8-4 loss in the Class B North quarterfinals Tuesday night at the Penobscot Ice Arena. The Broncos (14-1-4) will face No. 4 Presque Isle in Friday’s semifinals at Colby College.

The win sends Hampden to its third regional semifinal appearance in the last four years and after the RivherHawks had battled back to tie the game early in the second period, the Broncos admitted to being worried.

“It’s just good to get the win. I was nervous heading into it,” Leland said. “We got out in the first round last year, and the main thing was that I didn’t want to let that happen again.”

Kennebec won its final four games of the regular season — including a win over No. 6 Brewer on the final night of the year — to qualify for the playoffs. The RiverHawks’ season ends with a 6-11-2 mark.

Hampden exploded for four goals in the third period to blow open a close game, including two scores in the first 2:49 of the frame. Noah Dancoes’ goal just 21 seconds after the puck dropped made it a 5-2 lead for the Broncos.

Leland completed his hat trick at the 2:49 mark and added a fourth goal for good measure at 10:31.

“He had a good game. He works hard,” Hampden coach Eric MacDonald said. “If you asked him, he probably doesn’t know how many points he had. He just keeps playing shift by shift, and that’s the focus. He plays every shift as hard as he can.”

“I know that us as a line can rely on other lines to produce, too,” said Leland, who had never registered either a four-goal night or a six-point effort in a playoff game in a career that has now surpassed the 150-point plateau. “It’s not just us. There is pressure on us (as a line) — but at the same time, they take it off us, too.”

Nate Newgard had a pair of goals for Kennebec, with Cody Ivey and Zach Menoudarakos also potting scores. Sophomore Wyatt Grenier made 19 saves in the loss.

“When you’re putting so much into it, when you out-chance a team, and then you give up the next opportunity, it really is a backbreaker,” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said of Hampden’s early third-period onslaught. “We started to get a little mentally drained at the end there.”

The RiverHawks fought back from an early 2-0 deficit to get themselves right back in it midway through the night.

Ivey finished off a beautiful rush less than one minute after the Broncos had doubled their lead midway through the opening period, and started strong in the second to get Newgard’s equalizer at 1:39.

“We got the old playoff jitters going,” MacDonald said. “Nerves, guys gripping their sticks too tight. We just needed to calm down a play our systems. They’re a good team. I knew they’d come at us.”

The Broncos seemed energize by the turn in momentum, and they took to swarming the Kennebec zone.

Owen Cross swatted a rebound of mid-air at the right side of the cage to make it 3-2 at the 8:27 mark, handing the Broncos a lead they would not relinquish. The advantage grew to two goals for a second time at 11:21, with Leland netting his second of the game off a rush from his own end.

Hamdpen’s two-goal first-period lead came courtesy of Leland (8:27) and Mike Delahanty (12:38).

Junior netminder Cooper Ryan stopped 23 shots to backstop the Broncos into the next round, where they will face Presque Isle. The Wildcats were 4-3 winners over No. 5 Gardiner in another quarterfinal earlier in the night.

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