AUBURN — Poland/Gray-New Gloucester/Oak Hill picked a good time to play its best game under second-year coach Travis Jalbert.
For Leavitt coach Joe Hutchinson, Friday’s game was far from the best he’s seen from his team during his two-year stint behind the bench.
It’s closer to the worst.
The 26ers scored twice in the first period and Jason Cote netted a pair of third-period goals as P/Gray-NG/OH blanked the Hornets, 4-0, in the first round of the 21st annual Gippers’ Holiday Classic at Norway Savings Bank Arena. The 26ers will play the winner of Edward Little and Brunswick in the championship game Saturday.
“That’s the best we’ve played this year,” Jalbert said. “We stuck to the system. We played a good first period. Last week we played a good first period and we didn’t finish either game, so today’s focus was to play a complete 45-minute game, stick to the system. We know how to run it, we know how it works.”
The 26ers made good on their first power play opportunity of the night. In the final seconds of a cross-checking penalty to Leavitt’s Blaine Arsenault, Poland/Gray-NG/Oak Hill sophomore Riley Lavoie buried a shot far post over the glove-side shoulder of Hornets goaltender Ashton Dozois from the left circle. Ethan Cailler had the primary assist on the play as it was his rebound Lavoie put in the net.
Ryan Lavoie netted the 26ers’ second goal of the first period less than two minutes later. Skating in on a 2-on-1, Bailey Drouin saucered a pass from the right wing into the slot. The puck slid off Ryan Lavoie’s stick, but he was able to poke it past Dozois five-hole before the Leavitt netminder was able to play the puck.
The Hornets had trouble getting the puck out of their own zone all game. They struggled to connect passes and turned the puck over in front of Dozois a handful of times.
“We have a young defense and they just didn’t handle the pressure well today,” Hutchinson said. “It all starts back on the blue line. When they’re not making the plays they need to make, not reading the plays, not much you can do. The forwards were not helping out.”
After a scoreless second period, Cote all be sealed the victory 3:18 in with a shot from the top of the circle. It’s a shot Dozois would like to have back. It deflected off his glove and rolled between his legs as the 26ers took a 3-0 lead.
For a moment in the second period, it looked as if Cote’s day was done. He fell awkwardly to the ice late in the stanza and smacked his head hard on the ice. He was helped off the ice with the help of the team trainer.
“I just knew that my team needed me and I needed to be tough and not be injured,” Cote said.
Cote added an exclamation point to the team’s victory, scoring a short-handed empty-net goal with two seconds left.
It’s a game the Hornets would like to forget. They were limited to nine shots through the first two periods before totaling eight in the final frame. None of their shots go past 26ers goaltender Nick Hemond, who made a half-dozen sprawling saves throughout the game. He finished with 17 saves.
“My team kept me in it,” Hemond said. “They were scoring goals and working hard. They gave 110 percent every period, so I just matched that. That’s what kept me going.”
Said Jalbert: “Nick was unreal. He just competed tonight. He battled. He kept everything in front of him. He made all the saves he needed to make. He’s coming off a couple of performances where he let in a few he wanted back. Tonight was really redemption for him.”
The Hornets will get a chance at redemption sooner than later. They play the loser of the Edward Little and Brunswick game in the consolation Saturday and host Kennebunk at home on Tuesday.
“We’ll forget about (tonight),” Hutchinson said. “Tomorrow we’ll play everybody and get all the young guys some playing time.”