That was the toll of Friday night’s opener in the best-of-three NA3EHL East Division semifinal series. Yet somehow the rivals will lace up, sharpen the blades and do it again Saturday.

Dylan Vrees and Thomas Puetz collaborated on the first goal in the Spirit’s 5-1 victory at Androscoggin Bank Colisee. By the end of the second period, however, leading scorer Vrees and starting defenseman Puetz were backstage nursing injuries.

Vrees returned in the third period, wearing sweater No. 7 to replace bloodied No. 8, and furnished his second and third assists of the night on insurance goals by Linder Kenyon and Kyle Secor. Daniel Heffernan soon replaced him under the trainer’s care, badly dazed courtesy of a hit that cost Kyle Weiss a five-minute major and game misconduct.

“The Stars have always been a hard-working team, but we have a little more experience,” L/A coach Rod Simmons said. “I think if we keep our composure and rise to the occasion, we’re successful.”

Brett Bittner and Jordan Crowe also scored goals for L/A. Claes Endre made 30 saves, permitting only an unassisted first-period goal by Weiss.

L/A hosts the series in its entirety by virtue of the winning the tiebreaker for second place in the division during the regular season. Game 2 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday. A winner-take-all battle, if necessary, would be Sunday.


“We need to come back and try to seal the deal, get it done,” Vrees said.

The winner travels next weekend to No. 1 Cape Cod, which already swept Skylands in the other East semifinal.

“If we keep everybody healthy, which it didn’t look like it tonight, hopefully we can peak at the right time,” Simmons said.

An uneventful first period picked up steam in a hurry with three goals in a span of 2:17, capped by the Spirit’s tying and go-ahead tallies.

Weiss served up a pedestrian bid from the left circle that Endre appeared to misjudge, making a late, backhand stab with his glove. The puck deflected off Endre’s glove, and he couldn’t stop it from squirting inside the far post at 9:31 for a 1-0 Stars’ lead.

“I do this every day, but of course there’s a little nerves. It’s the playoffs,” Endre said. “Guys helped me see a lot of pucks out there.”


Nineteen seconds later, the Spirit pulled even at the end of a quick, odd-man rush. Bittner and Puetz fed Vrees’ break up the left side. He zeroed in, uncontested, deked right, skated left and beat Dominic Lamanno with a low shot the opposite way.

Bittner stuffed home a third opportunity for the Spirit at 11:48 for the 2-1 lead. Lamanno knocked down Kenyon’s service from the point and also had eyes for Vrees’ rebound try. With the right side of the cage momentarily vacant, Bittner exacted the toll, his 25th goal of the season.

The second stanza was a mixed bag for the Spirit, which extended its lead and killed two penalties but lost Vrees and Puetz in separate sequences.

Crowe collected the goal, only his second of the season, on the power play at 12:34. J.P. Chauvin shuffled the puck to Crowe at the point. The defenseman fired straight-on through traffic and solved Lamanno with help from the post.

Vrees stumbled face-first into the boards from a hand to the face after Lamanno (27 saves) stonewalled his strong but off-balance bid with 11 minutes left in the period.

He stayed down for several seconds, then skated off the ice without assistance, leaving a dotted-line of blood along the journey. Vrees hollered and hurled his helmet at the bench in disgust before seeking treatment in the dressing room.


“I wasn’t missing the rest of the game for that, especially if it was fixable,” Vrees said.

Two teammates helped Puetz off the ice after he suffered an ankle injury during the second of New England’s two fruitless power plays in the period. He is doubtful for Saturday’s game. Simmons said Puetz will require additional tests to make sure the bone isn’t broken.

Endre made 12 saves in the second period.

“They were looking for that opportunity on the back door. They don’t take a lot of shots until they’re good shots,” Endre said. “They like to tip and get really close. The ‘D’ did a great job in front of me.”

New England was 0-for-4 on the power play.

“The coaches made a couple of adjustments,” Simmons said. “Over the year it’s always been that one or two-goal game with them, and we give up that easy goal like the first one against us tonight, or we give up a power-play goal, and it really bites us.”


Cam Webster also picked up a game misconduct in the third period after his vehement protest of a slashing call.

L/A twice capitalized on the bottomless man-advantage. Kenyon made it 4-1 with help from Vrees and Bittner. Precisely three minutes later, Secor redirected Kenyon’s offering after another Vrees set-up.

“We were lucky they kind of lost their composure and were handing us power plays,” Vrees said. “We were clicking when that happened.”

New England lost a third player to disqualification, Derek Lovejoy, after a brief brawl with 3:02 to go. It was touched off when the Stars appeared to take a late shot at Endre. Chauvin also received a game misconduct.

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