AUBURN — Zac Knapp’s job description with the Gray-New Gloucester/Poland hockey team changed dramatically this week.

Normally sent onto the ice to patrol the blue line, the shifty skater played on the first line alongside sniper Kolby Arnold on Friday, charged by his coaches with energizing what had been a sluggish offense.

The move paid off.

Knapp scored a pair of goals and narrowly missed a hat trick into an empty net late in the third to lift the Patriotic Knights to a 2-1 win over Westbrook in the first round of the Gipper’s Holiday Tournament at Ingersoll Arena.

“That was a big win for us,” Knapp said. “We’d lost four in a row and we needed this win.”

Knapp’s second goal tickled the twine with just 1:52 to play in regulation. He drove the net up the left side and watched as teammate Ryan Davala bore down on Westbrook keeper Preston Peabbles from the right corner. Davala forced a shot that hit Peabbles in the right pad. The rebound ricocheted to Knapp, who buried the chance at the left post.

“We’d been getting those rebounds all night,” Knapp said. “We weren’t driving the net to get in position to get those rebounds. I saw the shot set up and I went to where I thought the rebound was going to be.”

The Blue Blazes had their chances, and even scored the game’s first goal in the opening period, but once they scored, they appeared to sit back in a defensive posture.

“We sat back the whole game,” Westbrook coach Travis Jalbert said. “We had no pressure on the forecheck and tried to protect the lead. There was a lot of shot-rebound, shot-rebound. There’s only so many times you can allow that before it bites you.”

Westbrook got things rolling in the first, firing the first shot of the game on Gray-NG/Poland goalie Matt Ouellette on a breakaway just seven seconds into the contest. The keeper was all over it, though, smothering it to keep the game scoreless.

The Blazes did strike first on the scoreboard, though, in their second solid scoring chance of the period more than 10 minutes in on the power play. Tommy Lemay ripped a wrister past Ouellette from the right circle to put his squad on top 1-0.

Gray-New Gloucester/Poland carried most of the play through the remainder of the period, thanks in large part to a pair of late power play chances, but Westbrook goalie Preston Peabbles stopped all 12 shots he saw in the opening frame to preserve his team’s advantage.

The Patriotic Knights battled back to even the score in the second. Arnold set up in the office behind the net and fed Knapp in the low right slot. Knapp beat Peabbles up high to the glove side.

Neither team scored on abbreviated power play time later in the period, and the teams went into the third deadlocked at 1-1, setting up Knapp’s late-game heroics.


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