HALLOWELL — Camden Hills has officially crashed the central Maine hockey tournament.

The Windjammers raced out to a four-goal lead before holding on for a wild 6-5 win over the Kennebec Riverhawks in the final Eastern Division round robin game of the “COVID Cup” on Wednesday afternoon at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault. The victory sent Camden Hills into the tournament championship on Friday afternoon against Capital Region, the champion of the Western Division via a tiebreaker.

Six different players scored goals for Camden Hills against the RiverHawks, including Owen McManus’ eventual game-winner into an empty net with 49 seconds remaining.

“We started off thinking there wouldn’t be a season,” said Camden Hills coach John Magri, noting safety guidelines in the late autumn which prevented teams from playing against those in other counties. “We’re an island where we are, and we really weren’t allowed to play anybody. … This six-team pod here took us in, and we took off running.

“I think the kids were just excited they could show what they had this year. They were planning on a big year.”

The second half of the contest Wednesday was emblematic of what most of the rest of the tournament featured.

Kennebec goalie Adam Sirois makes a save on a shot from Camden forward Charlie Griebel during a central Maine hockey tournament game Wednesday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Through the first six games of the Cup, all but one were decided by two goals or less — including three one-goal games. Gardiner’s win over Messalonskee late Monday night came in overtime.

The teams have been evenly matched, enough so that Capital Region got through to the championship after all three teams in the West went 1-1. The Hawks allowed just four goals through two games, making them by far the stingiest team in the entire tournament.

“There have been a couple of wild ones, but other than those it’s been tight,” Magri said. “Even with (Kennebec) this year, every goal has been a one goal game — 3-2 in overtime, 2-1, and then 6-5 here…. And Cony, they played us as hard as anybody this year. They run north to south. It’s simple, but it’s tough.”

On Wednesday, Camden got the early jump on Kennebec, opening up a 4-0 lead less than 13 minutes in. Camden Powell, Emmet Marshall, Charlie Greibel and Levi Guay all potted goals in the onslaught.

“You don’t get a lot of these big games,” Kennebec coach Jon Hart said. “We had guys battling, but these are the things you learn. Kids don’t get these opportunities. If you haven’t been in it, you can’t learn it.

“For a lot of our guys, they haven’t had a real playoff-type game. This was the first real ‘big’ game they’ve played in.”

Camden Hills forward Elias Libby, left, tries to skate past Kennebe’s Don Gurney during a central Maine hockey tournament game Wednesday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Kennebec’s Nate Newgard stopped the hemorrhaging and put the RiverHawks on the board at 14:59, the first of his three on the afternoon, and the Waterville/Winslow co-op had some life. Peter Sack made it 4-2 early in the second with a power-play goal, one of two goals for him in the contest.

Eli Libby answered for the Windjammers at 7:44 in what was a turning point in the contest. On the same play that saw Libby’s deflected shot from the high slot give Camden a 5-2 lead, the team lost first-line center Griebel to injury following a hard crash into the boards.

It was a moment that seemed to deflate the Windjammers emotionally — at the same time they took a collective breath at having answered Kennebec’s pressure after the intermission. It was a troublesome 1-2 punch for Camden Hills to take.

“Losing Charlie definitely wasn’t great,” Libby said. “We had to keep playing. I think we lost a little bit of energy and let off a little bit after that fifth goal. … We’ve definitely got stuff to work on for Friday.”

Newgard and Sack scored 3:34 apart to make it a 5-4 game with 6:06 left to play, but McManus’ empty-netter in the final minute was plenty of insulation against Newgard completing his hat track just 10 seconds later.

All of the chaotic, tight-spaces hockey was exactly what this tournament has provided almost since the opening puck drop between Gardiner and Capital Region on March 4.

“We were all super hyped when we were told we could have somewhat of a normal season,” Libby said. “It’s been fun. We’ve had some good games, and it’s been a great time.”

“It’s not the same as single-elimination and going through that way. It’s a little harder to take the momentum from one game to the next — I think anybody would say that,” Hart said of the tournament as a substitute for a traditional state playoff. “I think we would have seen (Camden Hills) at some point in a playoff bracket anyway. I told the boys tonight, ‘This is our championship. This is the team that’s beaten us by a goal — twice.”

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