posted Mar 3, 2014, 7:16 AM by Brett Saucier
updated Mar 3, 2014, 7:27 AM
Mike Whaley: Noble/Wells was the little team that could
Monday, March 3, 2014
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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.”
And they did.