ORONO, Maine — The Old Town-Orono hockey team was known more for power-play offense than penalty-killing defense this winter.
But the Black Bears’ man-down defense rose to a huge challenge Wednesday night and that was the difference as top-ranked Old Town-Orono outlasted No. 2 Kennebec of Waterville-Winslow 1-0 at Alfond Arena to capture its second straight Class B North title.
The defending state champions held Kennebec scoreless during four nearly consecutive power plays at the outset of the second period and ultimately capitalized on a Tyler McCannell goal and Kohle Parker’s 20 saves to edge the River Hawks.
“We were only like 78 percent [on penalty kills], which to me isn’t great,” said first-year Old Town-Orono head coach Chris Thurlow. “But I think the leadership and the experience these kids have had from last year helped us in that situation.”
Old Town-Orono (15-5) faces No. 1 Greely of Cumberland Center, a 9-4 winner over Cape Elizabeth in the South final, for the Class B state championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
That game is a rematch of last year’s state final, won by Old Town-Orono 3-2 in overtime.
Kennebec ends its season with a 15-5 record.
Old Town-Orono and Kennebec split two regular-season matches, each winning 6-4, but with a championship on the line the third encounter was a much more defensive-minded affair.
“Their defensemen did an amazing job where if they saw us leaving the zone they left early,” said Kennebec coach Jon Hart. “So we had guys going but they did a good enough job making our shots come from the outside and we had a difficult time penetrating, and every time we crashed hard if we didn’t get the rebound they were going the other way.”
The Old Town-Orono defense featured Cam Tower, playing in just his second game since suffering a broken collarbone on Dec. 27, and Dylan Street, back for his fourth game after being sidelined since Jan. 5 with an infection.
It was anchored in goal by Parker, a senior seeing his first duty after missing two games for a violation of team rules.
“I was glad to be back,” he said. “About 85 percent of their shots were quality chances. I just had to track them in, focus on my job and let my team do what they do best.”
McCannell scored the lone goal of the match 9:45 into the opening period.
Kennebec had the puck in its offensive end near the blue line but lost control along the right boards, where Old Town-Orono’s Gabe Talon collected it and spotted McCannell streaking in the other direction.
Talon’s lead pass was right on McCannell’s stick, and with two defenders pursuing him the junior forward carried the puck into the offensive end and scored with a shot from the right circle that slid between Kennebec goalie Ben Grenier’s pads.
“I saw Gabe had it on the weak side and I cut across from my opposite wing and saw their ‘D’ making a change so I said ‘chip it, chip it.’ Then I saw me and the goalie and that was it,” said McCannell of his team-leading 19th goal of the season.
“I actually got slashed when I took the shot. I was trying to go upstairs and it went five hole. I was just lucky enough to get it in the net.”
Old Town-Orono’s Nate Young was whistled for tripping as time expired in the first period in an effort to deny a late breakaway bid by Kennebec forward Zacharias Menoudarakos.
That penalty set off what was a Kennebec power play for all but 10 seconds of the first 6 minutes, 10 seconds of the second period and eight minutes of a 9:27 span after three more Old Town-Orono penalties.
But Parker and the Black Bears defense were stout. Kennebec managed four shots during its first power play of the sequence, including threatening bids from Brandon Mason, Cooper Hart and Thomas Tibbetts.
“I thought we were in trouble come the third [penalty]. I mean, how many can you go in a row before they convert?” said Thurlow. “But a couple of lucky bounces, and hard work from our kids to kill all of those, were huge.”
The third period was penalty-free and relatively uneventful until Kennebec pressed the action in the final minutes. After a River Hawks timeout with 1:33 remaining, Hunter Brown lined a shot from the right point off the outside of the right post, then took another shot from the center of the ice near the blue line that Tibbetts tipped toward the net but right to Parker.
“There were a couple plays when I was putting my hands up [thinking Kennebec had scored],” said Hart, “but they did a great job of doing the dirty stuff around the net to keep the puck out.
“Both teams did a good job of taking away each other’s transition offense. That’s playoff hockey.”
Kennebec pulled Grenier from its net with 51.6 seconds left but was unable to generate another scoring bid.
Grenier finished with 17 saves.