NA3HL hockey: L/A Nordiques survive shorthanded Cape Cod

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L/A’s Connor Kennedy tangles with Cape Cod’s Tanner Little during Friday night’s game at the Colisee. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

L/A’s J P Chauvin eyes the goal as Cape Cod’s Jack Conway edges in to steal the puck during Friday night’s game at the Colisee. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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L/A’s Kyle Secor moves the puck down the ice as Cape Cod’s Cody Lappas stays close behind during Friday night’s game at the Colisee. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

L/A’s Cole Ouellette passes the puck to a teammate during Friday night’s game at the Colisee. Cape Cod’s Joshua Malin moves in to disrupt the play. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — The Lewiston/Auburn Nordiques had plenty of reasons to feel confident heading into Friday night’s matchup against the Cape Cod Islanders.

Not only were the Nordiques looking down at the Islanders in the NA3HL’s Coastal Division standings (L/A entered play Friday in first place, Cape Cod in fifth) and playing on their home ice — where they’ve won seven straight games — but Cape Cod brought just 11 skaters and a new head coach.

It was the Islanders who got off to the confident start, however, scoring 20 seconds into the game before eventually falling to the Nordiques, 5-2, at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“Because they had a brand new coach, because they only had 11 skaters, I knew that they would come out really hard. And the message to our guys was don’t take this team lightly just because they are short,” L/A coach Cam Robichaud said. “We’ve played them three times, and beat them pretty bad all three times, so I think we had the mentality in the beginning, ‘We’re just going to show up and win,’ even though there was a clear message from the coaching staff that that’s not going to be the case.”

The ice barely had time to dry before Matheiu Auclair put the puck past L/A goalie Michael Errico just 20 ticks in. Jack Conway had the assist

“It definitely got us going,” Cape Cod’s Cody Doyon, a 2017 Lewiston High School graduate, said. “We haven’t played with a lead a lot this year, so it got us going.”

“I think the guys came out with a little extra energy, and they knew that we had some structure involved. So it kind of boosted them up at the beginning of the game,” said Cape Cod coach Alex Drulia, who took over the team Monday after former coach Barry O’Neill was relieved of his coaching duties.

That gut-punch goal certainly woke up the Nordiques, who began to apply pressure on Cape Cod goalie Esa Maki — a Jay, Maine, native.

“My line was out there when that happened,” L/A forward Caleb Labrie said. “We definitely weren’t looking at Coach when we were going back to the bench. Not the way we wanted to start out, but we definitely came back and battled.”

Shots started being fired, and one finally got past Maki 6:24 in. Donovan Tehan went bar-down from the blue line, with Clifford Ogle notching the assist.

The Nordiques took the lead (and for good) 1:37 later on the power play. Sam Frechette tipped home a shot by JP Chauvin. Another man-advantage goal put L/A up 3-1 late in the second period, with Shayne Plummer scoring on assists from Caleb Labrie and Cole Ouellette.

“It’s crucial because 5-on-5 it didn’t seem like we were getting a lot going,” Robichaud said. “I thought Maki played well for them in net.”

Any added comfort level didn’t last long for L/A, as the Islanders answered 59 seconds later. Leevi Kervinen scored unassisted with a flip over Errico’s right shoulder.

The Nordiques put the game away in the third. Joshua Malone scored nine minutes in to make it 4-2, and Chauvin put the nail in the coffin with a power-play snipe from the point with 1:26 remaining.

“We just ran out of gas at the end of the game,” Drulia said. “With 11 bodies it’s kind of tough to play a full 60 (minutes), but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Special teams play didn’t help the Islanders’ cause. While L/A was 3-for-6 on the power play, Cape Cod was 0-for-4 against a Nordiques penalty kill that had the third-best conversion rate in the league entering Friday’s game.

“They have a really good penalty kill,” Drulia, who was previously an associate coach for the NA3HL’s Great Falls Americans, said. “We haven’t worked on power play this week since I took over on Monday. That’s going to be what we work on this week in practice.”

Maki made 31 saves on 36 shots for the Islanders. Errico stopped 18 of 20.

“Maki, he played unreal tonight,” Doyon said. “He stopped everything he could. Everything he could see, everything he had a chance to stop, he made a good stop.”

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