Old Town-Orono proved Wednesday night that it is the favorite to win the seven-team high school hockey playoff pod that includes five schools from Penobscot County and two from Aroostook County.
Senior center and captain Tanner Evans scored two goals and added an assist to lead the three-time defending Class B North champs to an impressive 4-1 win over Class A Bangor at Sawyer Arena in Bangor.
Senior right wing Zach Needham notched a goal and two assists and junior Blaine Murray also scored for the Black Bears, who improved to 7-1.
Garrett Courtney tallied the only goal for Bangor (5-2-1).
Old Town-Orono took a huge step in sewing up the top seed for the pod. The line of Evans between Needham and speedy sophomore Carter Walls was dominant, constantly generating scoring chances off the rush and the forecheck.
They were a big reason the Black Bears outshot the Rams 40-13.
“They’re phenomenal,” Old Town-Orono coach Chris Thurlow said. “I’d stack them up against any line around.
“Tonight, our seniors, Tanner and Zach, put the team on their backs,” he added. “They were hungry. It was their first win over Bangor.”
The teams have played each other the last few years, including a season-opening 1-1 tie this season.
“We know where each other is on the ice. It’s easy to play with Tanner and Carter,” said Needham, who was thrilled to finally beat Bangor.
The teams were tied 1-1 at the intermission due largely to the play of Bangor junior all-conference goalie Jake Hirsch. He made 21 of his 36 saves in the first half as the Rams were outshot 22-5.
Games this winter are divided into 23-minute halves instead of three 15-minute periods under COVID-19 guidelines.
Murray scored with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that deflected in off a leg.
Courtney tied it in the second half with the help of a fortuitous bounce. Daniel McCarthy passed to Jack Perron at the right point and Perron’s shot hit a body in front of the goal. Courtney swept it into the open net at the far post.
Evans scored the game-winner off a turnover in the neutral zone. He pounced on the puck and broke in down the right wing.
“I was able to take it wide [around the defenseman] and I saw the short side open,” said Evans, who snapped a 12-foot wrist shot past Hirsch’s glove.
Bangor’s Michael McLean had a chance to tie it on a short-handed breakaway but Black Bears goalie Aiden Rand (12 saves) got his left pad on McLean’s back-hander.
“That was the play of the game,” Bangor coach Quinn Paradis said.
Evans expanded the lead by flipping home the rebound of a Needham slap shot from the outer half of the left circle.
“The puck was just sitting there and there was an open net,” Evans said.
Needham capped the scoring with Evans earning an assist.
“The better team won tonight,” Paradis said. “They kept us pinned in and won all the puck battles. [Hirsch] kept us in it.”
“We didn’t get enough shots,” Bangor junior center McCarthy said.
Evans called Hirsch the best goalie in the league.
Rand wasn’t tested nearly as much as Hirsch but made a number of quality saves.
“He has played well for us. I thought our defense made very good breakout passes and had its best game of the season. So did our top line,” Thurlow said.