By Tris Wykes
WEST LEBANON – Sometimes a tie isn’t much like kissing your sister. Instead, it more resembles her digging her knuckles into your scalp.
The Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal boys hockey team suffered an equivalent, emotional sensation Wednesday at Campion Rink. The hosts held a one-goal lead with seven minutes to play before falling into a 2-2 tie against NHIAA Division III rival Berlin-Gorham.
It wasn’t just the final deadlock, but the way it happened. The Raiders had the puck in the circle to the right of goaltender Toby Cromwell and one of them threw a blind, backhanded pass directly to Mountaineers defenseman Carter Poulin at the opposite point.
Poulin skated in several strides unimpeded and blew a shot past a startled Cromwell as the netminder slid from post to post. It was a back-breaking sequence for the Raiders with 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining in the third period.
“Yes, it was,” said LSMR coach Jim Damren. “I’m not going to elaborate. You saw what I saw.”
The Raiders visit the Mountaineers on Saturday to close the teams’ regular seasons. Berlin-Gorham lost once at Campion earlier this winter before beating LSMR in a return engagement in the White Mountains. The foes often played at top speed Wednesday, giving the contest a postseason vibe.
“We play very similar styles,” Damren said. “We both try to get pucks deep and get the play behind their defensemen. We want to forecheck and attack and create and that’s what they’re doing to us.
“I told their coach that they’re the best team we’ve seen this season, including Keene, which is a Division I team. He said the same thing about us.”
Berlin-Gorham (11-1-1) and Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal (7-3-1) could well meet in the state semifinals or final. The division has only 11 teams and four of them have played fewer than seven games.
“My understanding is they’re going to announce the (playoff) bracket (Thursday),” Damren said. “I have no idea how they’re going to do it. I think it will be grouped regionally, but I don’t know how they will seed it.”
The Raiders opened the scoring during the third minute when Hunter Christian, parked in the slot, was awarded a deflection goal following Jake Kriplin’s shot along the ice from the right point. Griffin Auch was awarded an assist.
Berlin-Gorham forged a 1-1 tie six minutes before the first intermission. Griffin Melanson went end-to-end before passing in front to Michael Cole, who eluded Luke Greene’s check and put the puck past Cromwell.
The hosts went up, 2-1, three minutes into the third period. Will McGee began to swing behind the visitors’ net before reversing direction and sending the puck out front to Aidan Yates for a quick shot and goal from the short side.
Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal played two lines almost exclusively, with Auch and Andrew Duany fixtures on one and Yates and McGee slotted on another. Christian, Paddy Mooney and Cesar Salcedo rotated through the other two openings, as determined by assistant coach Brad Whitaker, who oversees the forwards.
“I think it’s what he sees from an effort standpoint or their level of gas in the tank,” said Damren, who’s coached with Whitaker for roughly 20 years, dating back to when their sons were youth hockey teammates. “Who’s playing the way we want to? Forchecking down low in the zone and not just watching pucks or leaving their feet.
“They all bring a different style of expertise. One of them’s more of a grinder (Christian), one of them’s young and has pure speed (Mooney) and another one’s more of a finesse player (Salcedo). Our top six or seven guys are pretty interchangeable.”
Cromwell finished with 33 saves and Berlin-Gorham’s Kolin Melanson with 25.
“Berlin’s a very good hockey team and we have a lot of respect for them,” Damren said. “They play hard and play the game the right way and I hope that’s what they think of us.”
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