LEWISTON – The chant started up just moments after the final second ticked away on the St. Dom’s hockey season.
The victorious Waterville crowd began shouting “Just like last year.” It was a reference to the Saints’ 3-2 loss to the Purple Panthers in last year’s state championship game. Tuesday night, the final score was the same but the circumstances were very different.
A year ago, St. Dom’s fell behind 3-0 early and had to scrap and claw its way back before falling short. In this year’s Eastern A final, the Saints were right where they wanted to be but couldn’t close the deal. St. Dom’s had the lead twice in the final period but couldn’t hold on like Waterville did last year.
“I certainly wanted to play ahead in the game,” said St. Dom’s coach Steve Ouellette. “UItimately I think we just gave them too many chances down low.”
St. Dom’s had a 1-0 lead entering the third period. When that lead slipped away, the Saints still managed to take a 2-1 lead and were in the driver’s seat before a Waterville surge down the stretch made the Saints desperate for another comeback attempt. Even then, the Saints had a late power play opportunity and had the goalie pulled in the final minute. St. Dom’s created ample amount of pressure but just could’t produce the equalizer against Waterville netminder Ryan Cormier.
After a scoreless start, aided by the fine goaltending of Shayne Curtis, the Saints were able to strike first on an Alex Parker goal with 6:20 left in the second. St. Dom’s preserved that lead despite a penalty shot attempt by Waterville and two-on-one bid by Tim Locke.
That lead didn’t last long into the third though. Waterville tied it with a J. T. Whitten goal in the first minute. Though the Saints had started the second period strong, the Panthers were doing the same to open the third.
“What we’ve been saying about Waterville all year long is that they know how to win,” said Ouellette. “They have big strong boys up there. They go hard to the net. We just gave them too many chances, and the capitalized.”
The Saints were able to respond in the third and jumped back ahead. On the power play Will Desmairais’ shot from the point put the Saints in the driver’s season again with 10:48 left in regulation.
“I liked how we responded but it’s kind of typifies our year,” said Ouellette. “We lost five one-goal games.”
Waterville kept coming though and got a pair from Kyle Bishop in the final 8:17 that stunned the Saints.
“They took advantage of that power play,” said Ouellette. “Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. We were pinned in our zone there for quite awhile.”
Still, the Saints had the chances they wanted down the stretch. In one facet of the game that was similar to last year’s near miss, St. Dom’s stormed the net late only to come up short. The Saints had a power play chance in the final minutes and also pulled the goalie late. St. Dom’s had Waterville hemmed into its end and put the pressure on Cormier in net. The forecheck forced plenty of turnovers but couldn’t produce the tying goal.
“The last couple of minutes we put on a lot of pressure and certainly made it entertaining,” said Ouellette. “Ultimately, they won the battle in front of the net. They won it in the offensive zone but they also won it in the defensive zone because we weren’t getting our shots as close as we should have.”