FALMOUTH — Sometimes one play can alter the destiny of one team’s entire season.
For Greely boys’ hockey fans who couldn’t make it to Saturday night’s thriller against arch-nemesis Cape Elizabeth, it may come as a surprise to learn that the play wasn’t junior forward Justin Murphy’s rocket slapper in sudden-death overtime, a tally lifting the Rangers to a crucial 5-4 victory in the showdown between the tradition-rich Western B powers at the Family Ice Center.
The importance of Murphy’s game-winner can’t be disputed, particularly with both teams fighting for their playoff lives. But Greely sophomore Pete Stauber’s dazzling third period goal was the play that pumped new life into the Rangers. The strike also came at great consequence to a Capers’ team facing the unfamiliar possibility of missing the playoffs.
With Greely trailing 3-1 in the final period, Stauber energized his mates when he dove headlong into a surprised Cape Elizabeth defenseman who had been casually bringing the puck up ice.
Stauber’s effort sent the puck trickling into the Capers’ zone. Stauber regained his footing and collected the puck before skating alone toward the net. Cradling the puck on the curve of his stick, Stauber hesitated and froze Cape Elizabeth senior goalie Phil Jordan in his tracks, then lifted a well-placed wrister past Jordan’s glove and into the back of the net to make it 3-2 with 12 minutes remaining.
“I saw the puck but I knew (the defenseman) didn’t see me,” said Stauber. “If it meant getting hurt or even scoring a goal I had to sacrifice myself for the team. When I got up it was just me and the goalie. … This was a big win for us but every game from here on out is like a playoff game.”
With renewed purpose Greely pulled even less than three minutes later. Freshmen Erik Rost netted his second goal of the night to tie the score.
After Stauber made another brilliant steal at center ice and five-holed Jordan (38 saves) on a breakaway, the Rangers suddenly had the lead, 4-3, with just 4:33 left to stave off Cape Elizabeth’s inevitable final push.
But then again, it wasn’t quite time to warm up the car. In fact, the drama had only just begun.
When Stauber netted No. 2 and gave the Rangers their first lead of the game at 4-3, Murphy was hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty, presumably for getting a little too chatty. The Capers had two minutes with an extra skater and a prime opportunity to tie things up late.
With senior Sam St. Germain doing most of the work, mainly blasting away with blistering slap shots on Greely goalie Matt Labbe (30 saves), Cape Elizabeth was close to tying the game on several occasions.
Labbe covered up three straight times, but the Capers won every draw and continued to fire away and crash the net. St. Germain delivered the final scare of Cape Elizabeth’s power play when he dinged the right post with a slapper.
With Labbe sprawled on the ice, Greely managed to fight off the penalty. But 28 seconds after Murphy returned to the ice, one of St. Germain’s slapshots finally paid off when sophomore Nick Breed redirected one past Labbe to tie the game at 4-4 with just 2:05 left in regulation.
In a recurring theme, the officials whistled the Capers for excessive celebration, one of three they would enforce in the game, putting the Rangers on the power play essentially for the remainder of regulation.
Greely had plenty of opportunities to net the winner, but Jordan made one spectacular glove save and several other chances never materialized.
“That was a really exciting high school hockey game,” said Greely coach Barry Mothes. “Cape Elizabeth played really hard tonight and both teams had plenty of chances to win. I’m not sure how things are going to shake out but we’ll probably see them again in the playoffs. I was pleased that we came out with a little more energy and showed some big guts in the third period.”
In overtime, Greely managed to survive a penalty for too many skaters on the ice. Murphy then teed up a laser after a Cape turnover that found the back of the net with 1:28 left, kicking off a stick-tossing celebration that had to be whistled to an end so the two teams could shake hands.
“I had an open lane and was able to put the slapper by him on his glove side,” said Murphy. “We did a nice job in the overtime to win the game, but every time we play Cape Elizabeth it seems to go back and forth like that. There was no way we were going to let up in our own rink.”
Cape Elizabeth led 1-0 after the first period on a power-play goal by St. Germain and 2-1 after the second when Vinny Dell’ Aquila scored in a scrum out front. Rost answered on the power-play for Greely with 4:28 left in the second when he managed to keep the puck in at the high post and put a slapper on Jordan that deflected off his leg pads and found the back of the net.
The Rangers (second in the latest Western B Heals) still have five tough games left in the regular season before finding out where they stand for the Western B regional tournament. They play Wednesday at a tough Camden Hills team, then finish with four straight at home, beginning with Gardiner on Saturday night.
A huge showdown with York looms Feb. 11. Greely then hosts Westbrook and plays Falmouth to wrap things up.