LEWISTON — Evan Bourassa’s job on a normal night is to prevent goals.
Saturday, he did plenty of that. But one of his saves in the third period was also a big reason his club scored what proved to be the winner.
The Lewiston junior stuffed a pair of in-tight St. Dom’s opportunities with just over eight minutes to play and watched moments later as Kyle Lemelin fed Devon Beland for a goal at the other end, that goal proving the difference as Lewiston ran its impressive unbeaten streak to 10 with a tough-as-nails 2-1 victory over the Saints in front of a raucous crowd at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
“You try to battle the puck, and I tried to control it as much as I could and prevent the rebound,” Bourassa said. “I was just trying not to let anyone from St. Dom’s get the puck. It’s awesome. It feels great to know you just helped your team out a little bit, and then we put the puck in their net.”
The Blue Devils, coming off a 5-1 win over East-leading Bangor on Wednesday, turned back to Bourassa between the pipes after Brian Wigant tended the cage in their previous victory. Bourassa, Wigant, it hasn’t mattered for Lewiston.
“We feed off each other and we both do pretty well,” Bourassa said.
On the other end, as inevitably happens in tightly-contested rivalry contests, an opportunity arose for Lewiston after a tough break for St. Dom’s. One of the Saints’ defenders snapped his twig just as the Blue Devils broke from their zone. This allowed Lemelin to blow up the right side of the rink. Beland beelined for the back post and converted a perfect saucer feed from Lemelin to put his team on top 2-0.
“We work on it in practice a lot, where one player goes with the puck to the net, one trails and the other just busts to the net as hard as possible,” Beland said. “The defenseman had his back turned to me, so I figured I could get around him, and I know Kyle is always looking for the pass on that side.”
The victory runs Lewiston’s record to 10-3-1 after a 1-3-0 start, and avenges a 3-2 loss to the Saints back in December.
“The biggest thing right now is we’re working hard,” Belleau said. “If you look back on the games we lost at the beginning of the year, we were working hard, but we weren’t really consistent in our effort. When you’re not consistent, bad things can happen.”
The Saints weren’t done, though. They’d battled from behind in a 3-2 victory over Lewiston in December, and started on that same trail Saturday. Cam Hainey took a faceoff win at the center point and rifled a shot toward the cage. The puck appeared to deflect off of Lewiston defender Brett Vallee and float into the cage as Bourassa pushed in the wrong direction, confused by the deflection. The goal, though, was awarded to Troy Haefele, who was also in the goal-mouth area as the puck caromed in.
“I think our legs were starting to show in the third,” St. Dom’s coach Steve Ouellette said. “We were putting some more pressure on them. Hey, it’s what you want, one-goal games, I guess. I knew we’d be in a lot of them this year, and we certainly are. Right now, we seem to be on the wrong side lately.”
The game was also marked by physical play from both teams, though the Saints ended up with the edge in hits on the game, 33-23. More importantly for Lewiston, though, was the loss of senior defender and captain Brandon Tiner, who left the game in the second clutching his left arm. He did not return, and left the arena with that arm apparently in a sling under his jacket.
“They were a lot more physical than I thought they’d be,” Belleau said. “It was nice to play a very hard-fought game and come out on top.”
“Both sides, both teams’ defenses stepped up big tonight,” Ouellette said. “Limiting the other team’s quality chances, and there weren’t really many rebound chances, either.”
Jake Bergeron gave the Blue Devils the early lead with a tip-in goal of a Patrick DeBlois shot from the left point. The puck bounced to the ice and snuck through the pads of Saints’ keeper Austin Christopher, who also had a solid game despite the loss.
“Whichever night, we feel comfortable with both of them,” Ouellette said.