HALLOWELL — Casey Paul wasn’t sure he’d even get on the ice. The Tigers are sure glad he did.

The Gardiner forward broke down the left wing and roofed a backhander under the crossbar 1:24 into overtime Monday night, lifting the Tigers to a 5-4 win over Messalonskee in the final Western Division matchup of the central Maine high school hockey tournament at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault.

Paul’s second of the night completed a Gardiner comeback from a one-goal deficit with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

Gardiner’s win means that Capital Region advances into Friday’s finals of the “COVID Cup” against a still to be determined Eastern Division winner. Gardiner, Messalonskee and Capital Regional all finished with identical 1-1 records in the divisional round robin. The Hawks advance based on having allowed the fewest goals in the tournament thus far.

“I was glad it went in,” Paul said of his game-winner. “I didn’t think I was going to get on the ice, and then I did, so that was pretty good.”

Messalonskee had a 2-1 lead at halftime through goals from Myles Hammond and Will Durkee, with Paul’s first of the night having opened the scoring for the Tigers.

Nate Luiz tied things early in the second, before Bryce Crowell scored the first of his two on the night for the Eagles at 11:20.

Gardiner’s Ethan Boardman tied it up again at 3-3, but Crowell’s 5-on-3 power play goal with less than three minutes remaining in regulation put Messalonskee in the driver’s seat.

But like Boardman’s goal, and Paul’s eventual winner, the Tigers found a way to grind out a goal. Camdyn Lasselle drove to the net to find Jon Flynn’s rebound with 8.4 seconds showing on the clock and the Tiger net empty in favor of the extra attacker.

Messalonskee’s Andrew Salvadori, front, takes the puck down the ice against Gardiner defenders during the central Maine hockey tournament Monday at the Camden Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“The uncertainty of the beginning of the year finally washed away,” Gardiner coach Tyler Wing said. “They were able to find their groove within each other. It’s been a time coming, but they’ve really started to pick it up. … They really wanted to go out on a high note tonight.”

The equalizer came on Gardiner’s third consecutive offensive zone draw, following a pair of icing calls against Messalonskee.

“We’ve got to make plays with a little more composure at that time,” Messalonskee coach Dennis Martin said. “Guys were a little tired, but there were times we just panicked a couple of times (with the puck).

“We made some young mistakes.”

The first overtime game of the tournament, featuring wide-open 3-on-3 play, didn’t disappoint.

“That was a lot of fun out there,” Paul said.

Paul might have doubted whether he’d touch the ice in the extra session, but Wing said he had no doubts he’d go to the power forward.

“I started with the intent that I would put the first two lines out the best I could,” Wing said. “I started with Lasselle and Luiz, and then went (Garret) Doyle and Casey Paul, because they know how to grind in the corners. I had faith that they could find a way.”

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