LEWISTON — Lewiston blinked first.
In a battle of two freshman-laden teams, Yarmouth/Freeport pushed a bouncing puck over the line before the Blue Devils could solve freshman keeper Hannah Williams, and the Clippers held off a late Lewiston rally to earn a 2-0 victory over the Blue Devils at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Wednesday in the teams’ Eastern Maine girls’ hockey quarterfinal.
“It was an awesome game, a great game,” Yarmouth/Freeport coach David Neujahr said. “The girls played amazing. Three weeks ago, something clicked. I don’t know what it was, but something clicked.”
The Clippers had to win on the final day of the season just to overtake Winslow for the fifth and final playoff position in Eastern Maine. They kept on rolling Wednesday, outshooting Lewiston 22-12 and keeping the Devils from putting any real pressure on Williams.
Lewiston had defeated Yarmouth/Freeport twice during the season, once during Christmas vacation when the Clippers were undermanned, and once just last week, though that game was a tight, 2-1 Lewiston victory.
“Based in the last game … we were happy that we won,” Lewiston coach Ron Dumont said. “We knew they’ve been getting better all the time. They’re good skaters, and we knew they would put pressure on us. We kind of talked about how we would escape that pressure.”
Even in that defeat a week before, the Clippers were happy to have played, if only to get used to the building.
“It helped our confidence more than anything,” Neujahr said. “It really helped us know … we knew we could win here tonight, we really did.”
In a game where both sets of players could easily have been nervous, given their collective young age, the setting and the magnitude of the playoffs, neither appeared that way at the outset.
“You can’t just use the excuse of, ‘Well, we have freshmen,’ because they have a lot of freshmen, too,” Dumont said. “I think it got to the point, it was whoever was going to crack first. When you have young kids, whoever gets scored on first, it seems to take the life out of kids that are not used to competing or playing from behind.”
Through a penalty-free first period (neither team sent one girl to the penalty box all game, either), the teams traded shots from a distance. Lewiston freshman Paige Fontaine stopped five Yarmouth/Freeport chances, while Williams was 4-for-4 at the other end.
But off the faceoff to begin the second, the Clippers maintained possession into the Devils’ zone. With at least six players jostling for position and control of the puck inside of five feet in front of Fontaine, Emily Johnson found the disc on her stick blade and tucked it through the scrum and inside the left post for a 1-0 Yarmouth/Freeport lead.
“It was messy, but what are you going to do?” Dumont said. “That’s hockey. Sometimes that’s the way it bounces.”
“We knew it wasn’t going to be some great shot,” Neujahr said. “We knew it would take some work in front of the net to get those goals, and that’s what we got.”
But it was the third period where the Clippers did the most damage, even though they played most of it still only in front by one.
“We didn’t want to change anything,” Neujahr said. “I’ve been telling the girls, if we stand still, we lose. If we start chasing, we lose. Once we decided we were just going to be confident, stand still, get in the way be in our passing lanes and be in position, our whole season turned around.”
The insurance goal did come late in the third. With a handful of Lewiston players trapped on the ice after a long shift, Taylor Morrison kept the puck in at the blue line along the right boards and fired it toward the cage. It slipped underneath an exhausted Lewiston defender’s stick and onto that of Michelle Robichaud, who redirected it on net fast enough for it to beat Fontaine 5-hole and push the visitors’ lead to 2-0.
Despite a goalie-pulled effort in the final minute and a half, the Blue Devils never got close enough to do any real damage.
“At the end of the day, these are high school kids, and the onus is on me to get them ready,” Dumont said. “I guess I just didn’t push the right buttons. Sometimes that happens. They worked hard, they’ve worked hard all year. It is what it is.”
The Clippers advance to the Eastern Maine semifinal round against Brunswick, which will host that game at Watson Arena at 3 p.m. Friday.