HALLOWELL — Practice makes perfect, as the Gardiner boys hockey team found out Thursday.

Led by a hat trick from Nate Luiz and an excellent performance in net from Max Dearborn, the Tigers defeated Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse 5-0 at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault. Darien Jamison and Connor Whitley also had goals for Gardiner, which improved to 3-7-0 for the season.

The story of the game, though, were special teams, as Gardiner was at its best with only nine skaters on the ice. The Eagles (1-5) tallied six power plays to the Tigers’ one, but while Gardiner converted on the only chance it got, its penalty kill also stymied Mt. Ararat on all six opportunities it had, and even turned one of them into a short-handed goal.

How did the Tigers do so well while down a man? As Jamison said, experience helps — even if it’s the kind of experience you want to avoid.

“I hate to say it, but I think we’re pretty good at special teams because we’re on it 10 minutes every game,” the senior defenseman said. “You’ve got to get good at it, or it’s not going to go well.”

Gardiner sophomore Nate Luiz, top, celebrates after he scored the first Tiger goal against Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse junior goalie Sean Moore during a game Thursday at Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Early on, the Tigers weren’t. In a 6-0 loss to Cony/Hall-Dale/Monmouth/Erskine on Jan. 28, the Tigers hurt themselves when they allowed quick goals on each of the first two power plays they defended. But as the season has gone on, coach Tyler Wing has seen his team’s penalty kill round into form.

“It’s been an ongoing thing, as far as the penalty kill. We’ve learned how to fine-tune it and to pick out which style we need to run versus which team,” Wing said. “It’s been a long road to get to this point for our penalty kill. … It’s a matter of just fine-tuning everything as we move forward.”

There weren’t any issues on Thursday. The Tigers killed the first two chances in the first half, the second of which became a 5-on-3 for 18 seconds when Gardiner was called for a high stick.

Mt. Ararat’s fourth power play effectively iced the game. Moments after the Eagles’ Brandon Durant had a shot hit off the post, an airborne puck floated over a Mt. Ararat defenseman and into open ice. Camdyn Lasselle gathered it and went in alone, and although Sean Moore stopped his initial shot, the puck stayed with Lasselle, and slipped it over to a trailing Luiz for the easy goal and a 3-0 lead with 14:18 to go.

“It was great. I didn’t really expect it at all, because we were down a player,” Luiz said. “I thought he was going to bury it, he buried one last game on a breakaway. I was just trailing, and the puck (came) out front.”

Eagles coach A.J. Kavanaugh acknowledged that the goal deflated the team, which had already been getting frustrated with its inability to convert with the man advantage.

“I liked what we looked like 5-on-5, and unfortunately, 5-on-4 for us was a momentum kind-of killer for us. It wasn’t something we could build on,” he said. “We couldn’t find the back of the net, and that’s been a few games in a row now, so the kids are starting to squeeze their sticks a little tighter. It’s obvious, they’re just trying to get that one goal in. I think the floodgates will open.”

Gardiner started the scoring with 6:53 left in the first half when Luiz knocked in a shot from Jon Flynn that redirected off of Lasselle, and went up 2-0 on the power play with 4:53 left when Lasselle won the faceoff and knocked the puck to Garret Doyle, who then found Jamison across the ice for the goal.

Gardiner went up 4-0 on Whitley’s goal with 11:19 to play, and 5-0 on Luiz’s third goal with 58 seconds left.

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