PORTLAND—The Blazes grabbed the very first goal, a Josh Cavallaro strike, when they dropped in on Portland on Thursday afternoon, April 26. Westbrook couldn’t maintain their momentum, though: The Bulldogs took over, cruising to a 6-2 lead after one and eventually prevailing 14-5.
“They’ve got a good club there, Portland; tip your hat to them,” Westbrook head coach Pete Lyons said. “Hopefully we improve and give them a better tussle when we play them again, the end of the season.”
Westbrooker Jared Grant won a good deal the game’s faceoffs for the Blazes, including the opener. Westbrook’s initial possession, though, produced nothing. On the other hand, neither did the Bulldogs’ follow-up possession. Cavallaro converted on Westbrook’s next opportunity, juking nimbly inward from the left side to best Portland netminder Aaron Hoekstra.
Portland wasted little time in responding – and surging ahead. Reilly O’Brien kicked off the Bulldogs’ scoring with 8:47 to play in the first; just over two minutes later, Sam Shaw echoed O’Brien, and a mere 30 seconds after that, Tristan Arcand made it 3-1. With 5:01 remaining, O’Brien struck again, curling around from the top-left of the Westbrook zone to the top-center, firing through traffic and getting the better of Blazes goalie Christian Childs. 4-1.
Lyons and his boys knew, coming in, that they needed to focus on O’Brien and Shaw. “Yeah,” Lyons said “We knew what they were doing. They like to iso from the middie…Sometimes, we got our first slide there, but they moved the ball very well. They found their open guys in the crease, and we’re just not experienced enough to be consistent with our second slide. So we’ve got to work on that.”
Portland continued to build as the quarter elapsed. Sam Gerber battled straight through the middle of Westbrook’s defensive spread to score on a feisty shot in close at 1:55. 5-1. Grant then won another faceoff (his umpteenth), jetted up the left side and flipped the ball over to Evan Pednault; Pednault pulled the trigger from high on the right side, beating Hoekstra for 5-2. O’Brien responded with just 4.5 seconds to play for 6-2 after 12 minutes.
“We’re man-to-man, and they were kind of better than us,” Lyons said, chuckling. “I was feeling okay with our first line, and we just didn’t get our second slide in. And they fed the ball nicely to the crease.”
The Blazes slowed the ‘Dogs down substantially in the second: Portland managed just one point in the stretch, another O’Brien point, this one on a Gerber assist. But Westbrook couldn’t find the back of the net themselves, and haftime arrived with the scoreboard at 7-2.
The Blazes nearly matched Portland again in the third: While the Bulldogs tallied three, Westbrook tallied two. In the fourth, however, Portland again dominated. Blaze Gabe Martin notched the first goal of the stretch, but the ‘Dogs then seized control, hashing the last four of the outing for the 14-5 result.
Cavallaro finished with two goals for Westbrook, as well as one assist; Martin had two and Pednault the one. Grayson Post had two assists, and Ryan Shackley and Grant one each.
Lyons praised Grant, Cavallaro and Martin. “Our faceoff kid is strong; Jared does a really nice job,” Lyons said. “Josh does a nice job. And we have a kid, a freshman, Gabe Martin, who had two goals for us today.”
Post and Shackley are important weapons for the Blazes; Portland’s success in shutting them down for the entire game is noteworthy. Lyons observed as much.
“We need to do a much better job,” he said, “working the ball through Grayson and Ryan, and getting those guys to step up a little…We were a little stagnant on offense, which is my fault.”
Lyons also nodded at Childs’ work in the cage. “I would like to mention Christian Childs, who’s never played goalkeeper before in his life, and agreed to step in. In particular, he had a really nice second quarter, kept us in the game, made some nice saves. He’s an attackman, so he handles the ball well.”
Westbrook has struggled in the past couple years to find the right fit for the netminder position, and it’s cost them. Very little in the way of experience in goal has come up through the ranks and joined the team, so they’ve had to search for a natural talent.
“I don’t know that [Christian] is our long-term solution,” Lyons said. “I know he thinks he’s not; so we’ve got to figure that out too. We have a freshman goalkeeper we’re still working with named Nathan England. Hopefully we can get him a little more game-ready.”
O’Brien added two assists alongside his eight goals. Gerber and Shaw contributed two points apiece, with Shaw also logging two assists. Arcand and Kevin Moore had a goal each, and Moore and Evan Bay an assist each.
Westbrook travels to Morse on Saturday, April 28; they visit Windham on May 1. Portland, meanwhile, travels to Edward Little on Saturday and welcomes Biddeford on May 2.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.
Westbrooker Josh Cavallaro tires to skirt Portlander Max Cheever.
Evan Pednault fires forward for the Blazes.
Grayson Post decelerates after chasing a ball toward the endline.
Ryan Shackley drives forward for the Blazes.
Jared Grant battles amidst a handful of Bulldogs defenders.
Andrew Hatch ducks around a Bulldogs defender.