Boys Hockey: MOB hangs tight with Portland/Deering – until the final few minutes

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PORTLAND–Portland/Deering pressured the visiting MOB for much of the teams’ matchup on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 5. The 6-1 final belies the MOB’s efforts, though: Not only did they get on the board first – early in the opening period, thanks to Brad Cormier – but the wheels never really feel off for them until late in the third.

“Started running around,” MOB head coach Loren Blair said of his boys’ struggles toward the end of the outing. “We weren’t playing our game. They got in our heads a little bit, we started chasing the puck, we were tired. And they’re a good team; they move the puck well, and once you start making the mental mistakes, having a young team, they kind of shut down. A lot of bad mistakes last four minutes.”

The MOB began the game looking excellent: Portland/Deering opened on offense, but the MOB quickly broke their attack, then pushed to the opposite end of the ice. The visitors needed all of 31 seconds to punch home a quality goal and grab a 1-0 lead, Cormier doing the honors and Chris Westgate assisting.

Blair described the strike: “It was a good forecheck,” he said. “We went down, gained control of the puck, got it out in front of the net, and he put it home. It was just hard work, and that’s what we had to do. That was our game plan and we just made too many mistakes.”

Portland/Deering responded just about five minutes later: Cam Clifford tied things up on a powerplay (Cormier was in the box for a hold), assisted by Jake Luce. For the remainder of the game, Portland/Deering held the attacking edge, peppering MOB goalie Gavin Sperlich with far more shots than they gave up on their own netminder, Ben McCallum.

Sperlich, though – a freshman from Old Orchard Beach – has proven himself time and again this season, and turned away blast after blast. Near the start of the third, for instance, he turned in a great stop on a one-on-one after a Portland/Deering opponent dashed past his defender to force the opportunity.

“He’s definitely a good part of the team,” Blair said of Sperlich. “He’s our superstar. We’ve just got to help him out. We can’t let people stand in front of the net, we can’t be passing to people in the middle, turning the puck over in the neutral-zone and giving them an odd-man rush. Little things like that we can fix.”

Midway through the third, Portland/Deering jumped out front: Mika Silva’s initial shot came from close on the right side; Sperlich deflected it away, but his deflection zipped over to the left, where Carlos Braceres ducked in and smacked the rebound home. Sperlich never stood a chance.

Luce scored Portland/Deering’s third with 2:14 left to play, assisted by Silva. That’s when the MOB seemed to lose their composure – perhaps because they’re still fairly young. They fended Portland/Deering off for another minute, but in the last 60 seconds or so, the home team managed to hash three goals, machine-gun style, for the 6-1 final.

The teams racked up 22 penalty minutes between them through the course of the game, with the MOB earning 12 of those and Portland/Deering 10. Blair expressed dissatisfaction with his boys’ work on the powerplay.

“Our powerplay, we can’t even get it going; I think we’ve had one powerplay goal all year,” Blair said. “We’re just having some problems setting it up and finding someone to be the leader and run that. It’s tough, trying to find the guy.”

The MOB slipped on the loss to 3-4, and slipped as well to eighth in A South–outside the playoffs bracketing. The team clearly has the know-how to get back in, though, not to mention plenty of time. They travel to Kennebunk on Wednesday the 9th, then host Marshwood/Trait/Noble three days later.

Portland/Deering, meanwhile, advance to 4-2 and No. 1 in A South. The squad welcomes Lewiston – undefeated at present and comfortably atop the A North rankings – on Thursday the 10th.

Blair did say his boys turned in a decent effort on the whole, despite their missteps. “I think it’s everyone,” he said, asked who played well. “We play all three lines all the time. We had one guy get hurt, so we had to rotate another guy through there. But, if we stay our game, we do our forecheck and we play smart d-zone, with our goalie we can play with anyone.”

Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

MOBster Brady Cormier battles a Portland/Deering opponent late in the third.

Peyton Oertel tracks the action.

Chris Westgate tussles with a Portland/Deering opponent.

Tayte Harris pushes forward for the MOB.

Grayson Krause chases the action.

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