AUBURN — At times Wednesday night, Leavitt’s defense didn’t respond quickly enough. In another split second, the Hornets were just too eager.

The end result was a costly 4-2 Western Class B boys’ hockey loss to previously winless Gardiner at Norway Savings Bank Arena.

“We keep losing ground to people that are behind us,” Leavitt coach Joe Hutchinson said.

Through all their ups-and-downs of the first and second periods, the Hornets still were tied at 2 early in the third when Hornets freshman Garrett Morin and Tigers senior Matt Farris collided at center ice.

Farris fell face-first to the ice and required help from the athletic trainers. Leavitt was issued a five-minute major penalty for contact to the head, and Morin received a discretionary game disqualification.

Gardiner (1-7) only scored once during the five-minute advantage — on a blast from the point by Alex Nadeau at 1:45 — but it put the Tigers ahead to stay. Jacob Folsom added an empty-netter with 1:11 to play.

“You’d like to get another one,” Gardiner coach Jeff Ross said, “but we got the one we needed.”

“That was a big one. That one hurt,” Hutchinson said. “It was the discretion of the ref, so he thought it was a violent hit. I’m not going to question the ref. I thought the DQ was probably a little bit excessive, but when the kid goes down and is hurt, they have a tendency to want to do that.”

Nadeau had two goals and an assist to lead Gardiner, a team that features eight freshmen and six sophomores.

“We needed that. Tonight was important for them,” Ross said. “We had the lead and we lost it. It was about playing with a little grit and determination. I thought our second period was a little bit of a letdown, but the third period we came out gangbusters and got control of the game.”

One of Gardiner’s few seniors, four-year starter Brad Smith, made 23 saves in goal. His freshman counterpart, Ashton Dozois of Leavitt, stopped 22 shots.

Adam Poulin and Hunter Soucy each scored a goal for the Hornets (4-5).

Leavitt tied the game twice in the second period. Poulin swept in a power-play goal at 5:57 with assists from Taylor Scribner and Andrew Baumann.

The enjoyment was short-lived. Nadeau knocked in a rebound after Dozois initially denied Ryan Kelley’s rush only 44 seconds later.

“Tonight I don’t think we competed enough in our own zone. That’s where I think we lost the game. We were just terrible,” Hutchinson said. “Their second goal, all we saw from our angle was Kelley (with) a huge lane to the net. Those things can’t happen. That’s not good team defense.”

Still, Leavitt evened it up with 2:54 to go. In a scramble in front of the net, Soucy finally found a seam past Moore after stops of Kyle Knight and Lucas Perry.

Gardiner led 1-0 at the end of a free-wheeling first period that featured a failed penalty shot by both teams.

The Tigers took early command at 2:42, when Logan Peacock’s shot deflected off Dozois’ right pad and into the net for a power-play goal. Nadeau and Tristan Hebert collected the assists.

Gardiner hauled down Connor Violette on a short-handed breakaway. Moore denied the ensuing freebie with his stick.

“He’s a senior. He’s been where these freshmen have been, because he’s started since freshman year,” Ross said of Moore. “He’s been a workhorse for us. He knows he’s got to keep us in the game, and he did.”

Gardiner earned its penalty shot when a Leavitt defender got a stick on the puck while it was in the crease after shots by Nadeau and Kelley.

Dozois was up to the task with 2:05 remaining in the period.

It has been that kind of season for Leavitt. The Hornets have held their opponent to four or fewer goals in six of their nine games. Four is the high-water mark for their offense, however.

“The chances we’re getting, most teams would bury those,” Hutchinson said. “We could be scoring eight goals a game. We’re challenged to score two or three. That’s our challenge. If we don’t play well defensively, we’re screwed.”

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