LEWISTON — The Waterville student section erupted as the final buzzer sounded, and it didn’t take long for it to begin its four-syllable chant.
Behind a surge of pressure early in the third period and a pair of goals by co-captain Kyle Bishop, the Purple Panthers twice overcame a one-goal deficit in the final frame and pulled out a 3-2 victory over St. Dom’s in the Eastern Class A regional final Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
“All year, our team’s been a third-period team,” Waterville coach Dennis Martin said. “They find something a little extra.”
“There’s a lot of winners over there,” St. Dom’s coach Steve Ouellette said. “The game tonight got decided in front of the net, and I think at both ends, they were just a little bit better than we were.”
The final score and the Saints’ mad scramble with less than a minute to play in the game were about the only similarities between this game and last year’s Class A state final. In that game, the Saints were in a 3-0 hole before anyone’s coffee or hot chocolate had a chance to cool.
This time, it was St. Dom’s that asserted itself early.
“They came out hard and took it to us in the second period,” Bishop said.
But in the third, Waterville twice rallied from a one-goal deficit. The first tied the game at 1-1, and the second, Bishop’s first of the game, knotted things up at two.
“I don’t know what it is, we come out like animals in the third,” Waterville co-captain Josh Gaudette said.
Bishop’s winner came courtesy of a defensive lapse. On the penalty kill, St. Dom’s defender Trevar Haefele tried to stickhandle along the boards. Gaudette lifted his stick, wheeled and fired the puck at St. Dom’s netminder Shayne Curtis.
“I was calling for it, but looking at it now, I know (Gaudette) made the right decision to put it on net,” Bishop said. “There wasn’t much room there, and I was just trying to put it back on net so maybe we’d get another shot at it.”
It went in, and Waterville was back to holding back a furious Saints charge in the final minute.
“I think we made two key mistakes all night, and like any good team will, they capitalized on it,” Ouellette said.
The best chance for either team to score in the first period came at the 7:55 mark, when Gaudette set up Bishop on a partial breakaway after leading both St. Dom’s defenders to the left side. Bishop bore down on Curtis, and fired the puck into the Saints’ keeper’s chest protector.
Ryan Cormier had a relatively easy first period at the other end. His toughest stop came on a Haefele rush up the right side. The speedy forward-turned-defenseman snuck into the low slot sideways and tried to roof the puck short side, but Cormier made the stop.
Alex Parker put the Saints on the board at 6:20 of the second. He corralled a puck on his backhand on a saucer feed from the right corner off the stick of Cam Brown after a Nate Bergeron chance in front. Parker was all alone, and directed the puck through Cormier’s pads to put the hometown Saints on top, 1-0.
What is commonly billed as the most exciting play in hockey nearly allowed Waterville to get back even. Katy Masse took a feed at center and appeared to be all alone. On the backcheck, Saints’ defenseman Trevar Haefele spun Massey around, and officials awarded her a penalty shot.
Her attempt, a deke to the backhand, sailed over Curtis and over the crossbar.
Jordan Whitten was the beneficiary of a good bounce to start the third. Nick Deblois’ shot from the right circle on a faceoff win redirected off of Whitten and beat Curtis just 35 seconds into the frame to knot things up at a goal apiece.
The goal was the first Curtis had allowed in more than 75 minutes of play.