Mike Whaley: Noble/Wells was the little team that could
Monday, March 3, 2014
Click image to enlarge
Noble/Wells goalie Wyatt Ricker, left, is mobbed by teammates Connor Pease and Chullainn Kelly after last Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Cheverus in the regional quarterfinals. (Al Pike/ Democrat photo)
While everyone else was saying “No, they can’t,” the Noble/Wells boys ice hockey team was making it quite clear that “Yes, we can.”
Saturday afternoon at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine, the Knights nearly turned Maine high school ice hockey on its head by taking defending Class A champion Falmouth to the limit in the regional semifinal.
Falmouth scored a goal with 1:23 remaining to edge Noble/Wells, 5-4, and move on to the regional championship. The Yachtsmen celebrated a big win, but they knew they’d been in a tight game with the underdog Knights, who saw a historic season end.
Noble/Wells, which rosters just 13 skaters, won more games (15) than any previous Noble/Wells team, hosted its first playoff game (a 4-3 win over Cheverus in the quarters) and advanced to the regional semis for the first time in the program’s 11-year history.
“It was disappointing,” said senior defenseman Connor Pease, who scored two power-play goals. “But we figured we had 13 skaters to the 70 or 80 they get at tryouts. We were excited to be there and to come in as a no-name and make it a game. We competed with a top team with less talent and less numbers.”
OK, less numbers, yes. Less talent? Not likely.
Certainly more heart.
Consider that the Knights came out and caught Falmouth flat-footed and took it to them in the first five minutes, but did not score. The Yachtsmen then scored three goals to go up 3-0 after one. Blowout was a word on everyone’s mind.
After all, in theeir previous two playoff meetings, Falmouth had won, 11-0 and 11-1.
Not this time.
“Once we put a puck or two in the net we get some confidence and start playing better,” said junior forward Ryan Marsh, who had a goal and three assists. “It boosts us when we score.”
Marsh scored first and Noah Pease followed to make it 3-2. Falmouth widened the gap to 4-2, but Connor Pease scored on the power play, one of six the Knights scored in two playoff games, and it was a 4-3 game after two periods.
Connor Pease scored again on the power play midway through the third period and it was all tied up.
“When the puck rolled out to the point, I took a quick shot because they block shots,” Pease said. “(Goalie Dane Pauls) was screened and it went in the low left side. Both goals were like that, similar. I don’t think he saw either one. He just went down and hoped for the best.”
Noble/Wells tied 4-4 with Falmouth in the regional semifinal — Really?
“People obviously thought we weren’t going to win,” Marsh said. “People thought we didn’t have a chance.”
But, unfortunately, the Knights were on borrowed time. They were running on fumes. They have 13 skaters, but nine see the bulk of the ice time, and Falmouth was coming at them with three lines. Fatigue was a factor, and yet it was tied.
“We were all excited,” said Connor Pease. “They looked astonished that they were tied with a Tier II team.”
There was, however, no storybook finish. Falmouth’s Andre Clement scored with 1:23 to play and Cinderella’s skate finally slipped off.
“You can’t blame anyone for that,” said Connor Pease. “Wyatt (Ricker) played unbelievable (in goal). It was the same against Cheverus. They were rolling three lines. We were moving as fast as we could. I took one shift that lasted six or seven minutes in the second period.”
Dog tired and dejected, for sure, but also steeled by their new-found legitimacy. Noble/Wells had proven without question that it belongs.
“The power of the mind is limitless,” said coach Keith St. Cyr. “They believed they could make a go of it. It was close. It could have been ours as much as Falmouth’s. This team had more heart and will than any team I’ve ever coached.”
Probably more experience, too. It is likely that experience that allowed them to advance further than any previous Knight team.
Most of the players were on board last year when the team won the program’s first-ever playoff game over Bonny Eagle, 4-3, in the first round at a packed house at the University of Southern Maine. They then lost to Tier I Scarborough in the quarters, a game that was 2-1 midway through the second period before it got out of hand.
“Experience really helped,” St. Cyr said. “They played in that environment last year and knew what to expect coming into this year. The core of this group had been there and done that.”
The turning point, however, came on the eve of the playoffs last month against Tier I Portland-Deering, a team that they had already lost to, 3-1.
Noble/Wells broke open a 1-1 game in the third period with five answered goals to win, 6-1, and secure home ice in the quarters.
“That first goal flipped a switch,” Connor Pease said. “Then we kept putting them in and putting them in and getting more motivation. That’s when we realized we could compete with the Tier I teams.”
“We have a shot,” Marsh said. “We can come out on top. Then, when we beat Cheverus. That changed our outlook on Tier I teams. They’re high school kids, not superstars.”
But the difference between Tier I and Tier II is clear. The Tier I teams have a bigger pool of talent to draw from, often fielding JV and even freshmen teams. Whereas Tier II teams like Noble/Wells struggle every year to secure enough players for two lines and, maybe, a few subs. Three years ago, Noble added Wells players to the equation to ensure there would still be a team.
“Talent against talent, I’ll take our guys,” St. Cyr said. “But we don’t have the depth. That’s the difference.”
Which means Tier II will always battle for respect.
“We’ve always been the underdogs,” Marsh said. “We have nothing to lose. The fact that the game was so close made it exciting to be there. We played so well to get there, we figured we might as well leave it all out there.”
LEWISTON — The Noble/Wells Knights gave reigning Class A state champion Falmouth all it could handle Saturday, but Andre Clement's goal with 1:23 remaining sprang the Yachtsmen into the Western Class A hockey title game with a 5-4 semifinal victory.
“That's what they have done the last three games against Tier I teams. They proved they belong on the same ice as them,” Noble/Wells coach Keith St. Cyr said of his team. Falmouth will play Scarborough on Tuesday night at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee 8 p.m.
Noble/Wells played primarily a Tier II schedule this year. This was the first time it faced Falmouth all season.
Entering the third period, Falmouth had a 4-3 lead, but Connor Pease scored his second of the contest nearly eight minutes into the period to tie the contest up on the man advantage. Ryan Marsh earned his third assist of the day on the goal.
“Enjoy it to the very end, I don't care how tired you get, you have to put that out of your mind,” St. Cyr said he told his team in the second period.
It took half of the first period for the Yachtsmen to get their legs under them.
On their first power play, Jake Grade blasted a shot past Wyatt Ricker at the 7:27 mark of the first period on the power play. Assists went to Andre Clement and Brandon Peters.
Grade struck with 3:11 left to play in the first stanza, set up by Christopher Camelio.
Falmouth went into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead. Peters notched the goal with a minute left to play in the period. Isac Nordstrom and Tyler Jordan picked up the assists on the man advantage.
Falmouth was 2 of 2 on the power play while Noble/Wells was 2 of 4 with the man advantage.
“We have been here before. We had three overtime games this year and we won them all,” Falmouth coach Deron Barton said. “We had some tight games down the home stretch and I have to give credit to my guys too, hanging in there and finding a way to getting it done.”
Noble/Wells regrouped for the second period, and Ryan Marsh's shot 1:36 into the period put them on the board. Dean Pratt notched the lone assist.
The Knights pulled within one when Noah Pease's slid the puck inot the net on the backhand 7:12 into the period. Marsh and Pratt set up the goal.
“They earned a spot here, no question about it,” Barton said. “Maybe they weren't as talented as we were, but they wanted it as much or more (than) we did, and it showed.”
Falmouth restored some order when Hunter Low was left alone by the left circle. His slap shot found the back of the net 11:08 into the period.
Connor Pease's slap shot trickled through the pads of Falmouth goalkeeper Dane Pauls with 35 seconds left in the period.
LEWISTON — Andre Clement was surprised to look up at the scoreboard and see his Falmouth boys’ hockey team tied with upstart Noble/Wells late in the third period Saturday.
click image to enlarge
Christopher Camelio, left, of Falmouth celebrates with Andrew Clement on Saturday after Clement scored the winning goal against Noble/Wells late in the third period of a Western Class A semifinal at the Colisee in Lewiston. The Yachtsmen will face Scarborough in the regional final on Tuesday.
The Yachtsmen are the defending Class A state champions and had built a three-goal lead early in the Western Maine semifinal at the Colisee. Noble/Wells had never advanced this far in the program’s 11-year history.
“They outworked us at points in the game,” admitted Clement, a senior captain.
But the final minutes were not one of those stretches. Clement made sure of that.
The center found the puck in his skates, took off along the left boards with a defender clinging to him, veered toward the goal and fired a backhander into the net with 1:23 remaining to give the Yachtsmen a surprisingly hard-earned 5-4 victory.
“We were trying to do too much in the neutral zone. We weren’t getting it deep when we needed to. Guys were trying to make fancy moves,” Clement said.
“I was happy that it went in. To be tied 4-4 that late in the game and to come out on top like that, it’s a great feeling.”
Top-ranked Falmouth (15-5) built a 3-0 lead after one period, thanks to a pair of goals from hard-shooting defenseman Jake Grade. But the Yachtsmen wore a path to the penalty box in the second period, and fourth-seeded Noble/Wells made them pay. Ryan Marsh scored on a wrist shot just as one power play ended, then fed Noah Pease out front for a second goal. Connor Pease converted a power-play opportunity late in the period, and suddenly Falmouth was heading to the locker room with its knuckles as white as its jerseys, leading just 4-3.
“That was a dogfight,” Grade said. “I don’t know if we were expecting it to be like that, but they were a great team and they came at us hard.”
Noble/Wells Coach Keith St. Cyr said it was Marsh’s goal that altered his team’s outlook.
“I had to remind them, ‘Listen, you guys do belong on the ice with them and you can compete with them,’” St. Cyr said. “Really what it took was that first goal, and all of the sudden, they go, ‘Wow, now I’m ready to skate.’ And they were.”
Noble/Wells tied the score midway through the third period when Connor Pease slid another power-play shot from the left point into the net. The Knights’ fans were roaring, sensing an upset.
Clement ended those thoughts.
Falmouth Coach Deron Barton praised the Knights for establishing the frenzied tempo that they wanted.
“They drew us into their game. They were constantly whacking and slashing and causing confusion in the neutral zone, and we’re just not used to that style of play,” Barton said.
“(Clement) is constantly in the mix when we need it. Without him and some of the other leadership on the team, the season ends today.”
The Yachtsmen advance to the regional final Tuesday at the Colisee against Scarborough.
Noble/Wells finished 15-5 against a Tier II schedule that many decried as too soft. The Knights certainly made some converts at the end of the season with victories over Portland/Deering and Cheverus before giving Falmouth all it could handle.
After the game, the Knights’ fans lined the hallway outside the locker room to escort the players en masse out to the bus.
“It was the proudest moment of my life in coaching,” St. Cyr said. “They set lofty goals for themselves, so we pushed them hard. And they stuck with it.”
The Knights battled Portland-Deering on their senior night and last game of the regular season. After losing to them the week before 3-1, the Knights came out prepared this time and shut-down the Bulldogs with a devastating 6-1 victory. This win secured the best regular season record the Noble-Wells Hockey program has ever seen. It also secured 4th place and a Home playoff game at Rochester Ice Arena, something the program has never seen.
During the regular season the Knights outscored their opponents 103 - 28.
Good work and Congratulations to the Team!
This Tuesday the Knights take on Cheverus in their Home playoff debut.