LEWISTON, Maine — Waterville High School’s top-seeded Purple Panthers parlayed their impressive speed and resiliency — and two goals and two assists from sophomore center Eric Aldrich — into a dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 win over Bangor Saturday afternoon in their Eastern Maine Class A schoolboy hockey semifinal at the Colisee.
But it will be a controversial no-goal call that may have had as much to do with the outcome as the top-seeded Panthers’ refuse-to-lose mentality.
The fourth-seeded Rams (14-6) bolted out to a 3-0 first-period lead and were clinging to a 3-2 lead two minutes into the third period when sophomore center Joey Seccareccia appeared to roof a point-blank rebound to extend the lead to 4-2.
But the goal light never went on and the two referees and linesmen agreed it was no goal.
“I saw it go in and hit the [under side] of the water bottle,” insisted Seccareccia. “It was really disappointing.”
“They told us it [directly] hit the water bottle on top of the net. That doesn’t make sense because the puck deflected out toward the blue line,” said Bangor goalie Zach Hamilton.
Waterville, winner of 18 straight, will face 13-6-1 Lewiston in Tuesday’s EM title game at the Colisee.
Third-seeded Lewiston edged No. 2 Brewer 2-1 in the day’s second semifinal.
In the first game, Waterville’s Nick DeBlois tied the game with a tight-angle shot on a five-on-three 3:41 later when Aldrich swept the puck to the net and it deflected to him off teammate Tim Locke’s skate.
“I didn’t have much to shoot at. I just tried to put it on net and it went in,” said DeBlois.
“Penalties killed us,” said Hamilton. “That let them back in the game. They have the best power play in the East.”
Aldrich’s game-winner came on a clean breakaway directly off an errant Bangor back pass.
“We put great pressure on them and made them quiver. They made a mistake and I picked up the puck. I knew [Hamilton] played out and he poke-checked [a breakaway] away earlier, so I brought it [around Hamilton] to my backhand and tucked it in,” said Aldrich.
“We had to kill a lot of penalties and I faced a lot of shots, so I just didn’t have enough in me to get over there,” said Hamilton, who turned in a superb 34-save performance.
“[Aldrich] had a great game,” added Hamilton.
Waterville was without standout senior defenseman and 30-point scorer Shawn Lee, who separated his shoulder earlier in the week.
“Shawn’s a great player, but we knew we could win without him. It was a great team effort,” said Aldrich, who jumpstarted the rally with a momentum-changing wraparound with five seconds left in the first period.
“That was huge. If [Aldrich] hadn’t scored, it might have been a different game,” said Waterville goalie Nolan MacDonnell (26 saves).
Locke jammed home a power-play rebound to make it 3-2 at 8:38 of the second period.
Bangor had shocked the 19-1 Panthers by building its 3-0 lead on Alan Reese’s rising wrister off a two-on-one over MacDonnell’s glove to the short side, Nick George’s low wrister from the point that capped a multi-shot flurry, and a clever re-direction by Seccareccia off a Chad Kelley point shot that was going wide.
But Aldrich scored 34 seconds later.
Bangor lost speedster and leading scorer Johnny Warren to a collarbone injury late in the second period.
In the second semifinal, Brewer freshman Jacob Chapman had the game on his stick.
Lewiston keeper Cam Poussard had other things on his mind.
Chapman circled the net with the puck on his backhand, right to left, and thought he had stuffed it past Poussard.
“I got that with my stick at first,” Poussard said. “Then, I have no idea where it was, and I got pushed into the net.”
Ryan Nadeau had the next chance for the Witches. His shot clanged off the left post, came back through Poussard’s pads and sat in the crease for a few seconds before the sophomore keeper covered it.
Again, no goal.
“Our boys thought we had one or two taken away from us tonight,” Brewer coach Bill Schwarz said. “We just couldn’t finish. The light’s got to go on.”
Poussard stopped 23 of 24 Brewer shots and the Blue Devils’ defense stymied the state’s top offensive line, leading Lewiston by Brewer.
“We’ve been struggling to put pucks in the net all year, but … when you have a good goaltender and good defense, you have a chance to win every game,” Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau said. “We have a good goaltender and we have good defense, and by defense I mean all five guys on the ice.”
“They don’t score a lot of goals, even though they don’t give up many,” Schwarz said of Lewiston. “We thought we could get three goals today, the way we’ve been playing, and it just didn’t happen.”
Lewiston popped in a pair in the first, getting goals from sophomores Sam Cloutier and Ryan Lemelin.
The Witches got one back late in the second, from Nadeau on a shot from the lower right circle on a feed across from Andy Bush.
Two years after winning the Class B state title, the Witches (15-4-1) completed their two-year stay in Class A with identical results: a loss to Lewiston in the Eastern semifinal round. Brewer will return to Class B competition next season, according to Schwarz.
“I thought we did better [this year] than I thought we were going to do,” Schwarz said. “Three losses in the regular season, two to Waterville and one to St. Dom’s, we tied Lewiston, we beat Lewiston, Bangor twice, Biddeford, Scarborough, Falmouth — we beat some good teams. This is a good team. I have all the respect for the way they work. They’re just good kids.”