Eastern Girls’ Hockey Final: Defense drove Red Hornets, Blue Devils to Portland

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It’s the game every Twin Cities girls’ varsity hockey player or fan wanted since the first puck dropped at practice in November.

The only thing neutral will be the ice.

No. 1 Leavitt/Edward Little (16-3) meets No. 2 Lewiston (14-4-1) at 5 p.m. Wednesday for the Eastern Maine championship at Portland Ice Arena. The winner gets to return home and welcome the Western Maine champion — either Scarborough or Falmouth — to Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Saturday night.

Leavitt Little swept three games from Lewiston during the season, all close ones. The Red Hornets prevailed 3-2 and 3-1 during the regular season to lock up the top seed in the regional playoffs, then shut out the Blue Devils 1-0 to win the KVAC championship.

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“We’ll take another shot,” Lewiston coach Ron Dumont said. “Couldn’t ask for any better. We’re all good with that.”

The Red Hornets’ rule of the rivalry dates back to the 2013 regional semifinals and what was arguably the greatest game to date in the six-year history of girls’ hockey.

Taylor Landry scored with nine-tenths of a second remaining in double overtime to give Leavitt Little a 3-2 victory.

Thanks to a blizzard that delayed the semifinal by two days, the Red Hornets had only about 18 hours — including sleep and school — to prepare for its first regional title game. Greely won convincingly and went on to become the first two-time state champion.

Leavitt Little had much more time to let the emotions sink in prior to the encore appearance. This time, in fact, the only scheduling snafu made life even more convenient.

After its convincing 6-1 semifinal victory over the Yarmouth/Freeport combine Saturday afternoon on the showcase rink at Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn, Leavitt Little crossed the hallway and scouted Lewiston’s 1-0 ouster of Greely.

Lewiston’s semifinal was moved to the new arena after an issue with the ice at the Colisee.

“That will be nice,” Leavitt Little coach Shon Collins said of the more traditional break between the semifinal and championship rounds. “We were lucky enough to come over here and watch who we’re going to play on our home rink. I think most of the girls stayed.”

Both teams have dominated with defense.

Leavitt Little outscored opponents 85-16, allowing seven of those goals to undefeated Scarborough.

Junior Danica Nadeau leads a freshman-dominated defense that has posted 13 shutouts, counting the KVAC title game. Freshman Savannah Shaw and junior Tori Sanford have shared duties in goal.

“Some of those shutouts didn’t come against the top competition,” Collins acknowledged, “but the defense has played very well.”

First-year defenders Ally MacKenzie, Kaylee Younk and Kylie Bureau have collaborated with Nadeau at the blue line.

Bureau was moved to forward for the playoffs and contributed to a goal in the semifinals, when Leavitt Little exploded to a 1-0 in the first two minutes and padded it to 3-0 early in the second period.

“Whenever any team scores on us first, we kind of let down and it doesn’t really help us at all,” freshman forward Mariah Vaillancourt said. “It’s good when we score early. It helps our defense be strong.”

Landry has scored more than 150 career goals and is the focus of every defensive strategy designed to slow the Red Hornets. But Vaillancourt and Haley Frohlich, also freshmen, became Landry’s linemates this season and helped take the pressure off.

Six different players scored for Leavitt Little in the semifinal win. Landry, Frohlich and Vaillancourt combined for three goals and eight assists.

“She’s just an outstanding player and can generate so much by herself and really get the team going right off,” Collins said of Landry.

Lewiston is a match in the category of youthful talent. Only four seniors suit up the Devils. Right wing Sam Cote is the lone starter in the quartet.

Freshman Allison Frechette, sophomore Corinne Laberge and juniors Erica Lemieux and Erin Hubbard were rock-solid at both ends of the ice in the win over Greely.

Paige Fontaine, a junior who returned to the program this season after a year at prep school, made 21 saves in her ninth shutout of the season. Lewiston has scored 62 goals while allowing only 18.

“Paige was as good as she’s ever been. She was stellar,” Dumont said. “So were the girls in front of her. They were moving pucks. They were blocking shots.”

Both teams know that the game could turn on a single misstep.

Lewiston was victimized by an own goal in a regular-season loss to Leavitt Little. The Red Hornets, meanwhile, cost themselves a playoff shutout when they tried to get too fancy and turned over the puck deep in their defensive zone.

“Throughout the season we’ve had some of the freshman growing pains,” Collins said. “There were times when the pressure got on and the noise got a little louder that we seemed to stop doing some of the smart hockey plays we had been making.”

Leavitt Little seeks its first-ever trip to the state final. Lewiston hasn’t made it to states since winning the inaugural in 2009 and losing to Cheverus in its 2010 defense.

“This is the closest we’ve been,” Lemieux said. “We’re very nervous but very excited.”

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