HALLOWELL — A freight train barreling into the playoffs, the Black Tigers are showing no signs of slowing now that the postseason arrived.

Freshman Katie Berard celebrated her birthday with a hat trick, as the No. 3 seeded Black Tigers rolled to a 3-0 win over No. 6 Lewiston in a girls hockey Class A North quarterfinal Wednesday at The Camden National Bank Ice Vault. Comprised of eight schools — Winslow, Gardiner, Messalonskee, Erskine, Maranacook, Mt. Blue, Lawrence and Cony — the co-operative unit won its seventh straight game dating to Jan. 27 and ninth in its last 10 outings.

The win over the Blue Devils (10-9-0) sent the Black Tigers into a regional semifinal against Brewer/Bangor/Hamdpen/Hermon/John Bapst/Old Town/Orono on Friday night at 5 p.m.

“We are playing our best hockey right now,” said Winslow/Gardiner head coach Bill Boardman. “We’re moving the puck well, we’re putting pressure on the puck and we’re conditioned. We’re ready.” 

The quarterfinal victory was backstopped by an 18-save performance from netminder Emma Michaud. The shutout was the senior’s fourth of the year — all of them coming after the season’s midpoint.

“I really loved our hard work,” said Michaud, who entered the night with a 2.30 goals against average. “Going into playoffs, it’s not about who’s going to show up with the most talent. It’s who shows up with the most heart.”

Berard got things started for the Black Tigers at 7:15 of the opening period when she split a pair of Lewiston defenders at their own blue and line raced in alone for a deke-and-backhand finish past Blue Devil goalie Kim McLaughlin (34 saves).

After killing off a penalty in the final seconds of the first, the Black Tigers wasted no time getting back to work in the offensive end in the second period.

Winslow/Gardiner/Cony/Messalonskee/Lawrence/Erskine/Maranacook/Mt. Blue freshman forward Katie Berard, center, is hugged by teammates after she scored first period goal during a Class A North quarterfinal game Wednesday at The Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Berard collected a puck off a wild opening draw at center ice and finished off a nearly identical move for a 2-0 lead only nine seconds in.

“Usually the goalie is expecting a quick shot,” Berard said. “If you can pull it wide, not many of them are expecting it. Then it’s a quick backhand it, and it works like a charm.”

At the 2:36 mark of the third period, after drilling the crossbar in the final minute of the second, Berard finished off her hat trick with a power move off the left wing that she stuffed past McLaughlin.

“Down the stretch, she’s been crucial to our success,” Boardman said of Berard. “She’s grown a lot since the beginning of the season. I’ve seen maturity from her just being around senior girls in the locker room. She’s become a much better player, if that’s possible at this point in time.”

Michaud’s shutout bid was in jeopardy with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.

Blue Devil Emily Robert cut out of the right wing corner and forced Michaud into a good, pad save. When the rebound bounced straight out to Alyssa Marcoux with an empty net standing between her and a Lewiston goal, Michaud made a diving glove save to snare the bid.

“It gets down the wire and you see that number up there (on the scoreboard) and you think, ‘I’ve got it,’ and then that one shot comes,” Michaud said. “I got lucky. That’s all I can say — I got lucky.”

The luck was a product of hard work from opening puck drop to final buzzer.

“That was the game plan, to pressure the puck and be on them like 1,000 mosquitoes,” Boardman said. “We definitely wanted to pressure the puck, create turnovers and get the puck on Katie’s stick. If you do that, she’s going to finish it.”

Comments are no longer available on this story