PORTLAND—There were several reasons to be pessimistic about the Greely girls’ hockey team’s chances entering Saturday evening’s East Region semifinal against the Leavitt-Edward Little co-op team at Portland Ice Arena.
Not only did the Rangers lose both regular season meetings versus the Red Hornets, but injuries and illness have decimated the roster.
Luckily for Greely, senior goaltender Emma Seymour was healthy and up to the challenge, keeping Leavitt-EL off the scoreboard.
Problem was, the Rangers weren’t able to tickle the twine either, but that changed a minute, 44 seconds into the final period when junior Monica Howland scored on a rebound and Greely held on for a 1-0 victory, improving to 14-5 and advancing to Wednesday’s East Region final versus Brunswick.
“I was never going to lose this game,” Seymour said. “We’ve never beaten them before. It’s about time we did. I didn’t want this to be my last game. We had a lot of injuries. Two of our best players are out. One of our best defenders has a concussion. They all contribute so much to the team. We really had nothing to lose going into the game. We wanted this so badly.”
Greely won 12 of its first 14 games this winter, falling only to Falmouth and Leavitt. After a second loss to the Hornets, the Rangers dropped another decision to the Yachtsmen, then fell at home to York before rallying for an overtime victory over Portland to end the regular season 13-5, good for the No. 2 seed in the East Region.
The Red Hornets began the year 1-2, but went 10-4-1 the rest of the way to wind up 11-6-1, which left them third in the East.
Both regular season meetings saw Leavitt-EL grab an early lead and Greely rally, but ultimately fall short. In the first meeting, the Rangers bounced back from a 2-0 deficit and forced overtime, but the Red Hornets prevailed, 3-2. The second time around, Greely trailed 3-0 in the third period, erupted for three goals to tie, but again, Leavitt-EL had the last laugh, winning, 4-3, on a goal in the final minute.
In fact, the Rangers had lost six in a row to the Red Hornets heading into the game, but this time, despite the absence of juniors Meg Finley, Paige Tuller and Freyja Victory, they managed to get the win.
Offense was at a premium from the get go. Neither team had many chances in the first period as Leavitt-EL had a 6-3 shots advantage.
Action picked up in the second period.
A little over two minutes in, a backhanded shot from Greely senior CeCi Hodgkins went just wide.
With 10:19 to play in the second, Red Hornets standout Taylor Landry (who had the winner in the most recent meeting) broke in on Seymour, but her shot was turned aside, keeping the game scoreless.
“One of our defenders tried to stop the puck, but Taylor just broke loose,” Seymour said. “I was expecting her to go glove side because she always goes glove side on me and she always scores, but she went blocker side and it was an easy save. It came naturally.”
Momentum changed for good with just over five minutes to play in the second period after a Leavitt-EL penalty and the Rangers began to pepper Red Hornets goalie Tori Sanford.
With 4:25 to go, freshman Mary Morrison’s shot was saved, but the rebound sat in front of the goal until it was cleared. Eight seconds later, a shot from junior Etta Copenhagen was denied and again the rebound was loose until it was swept aside. A minute later, junior Chelsey Andrews had a pair of bids saved by Sanford.
With 1:45 remaining, sophomore Sarah Kurland’s initial shot was saved, but she got to the rebound, only to see her second shot ricochet off the post. Seconds later, Hodgkins had a shot saved by Sanford (15 saves on the night).
Entering the third period, the Rangers were full of confidence as they’ve saved their best for last all season.
“We know we’re a third period team,” Howland said. “We were playing our hardest. We have a great goalie behind us. It’s tough when you can’t score, but we kept crashing the net.”
“It was a little nervewracking, but we score a lot of goals in the third period,” said Seymour.
“We felt really good going into the third since they didn’t score first this time,” added Greely coach Nate Guerin. “The other two games we let them get on the board early. We really don’t pick it up until the third. That was the big difference this time.”
Sure enough, with 13:16 left in regulation, the Rangers finally struck.
Andrews sent a shot on goal that Sanford saved, but the puck fell loose in front and this time, Howland was able to jam it home to make it 1-0.
“We were all just crashing the net,” said Howland. “It was a tough goal, but it went in. The puck was right to the side of the goalie. We all crashed and my stick luckily hit it in. We were where we were supposed to be.”
“We had some awesome chances all game,” Guerin said. “We were just waiting to get a bounce to go the right way. We knew it would be ugly, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t see the puck go in. I saw the scrum in the front. We have little, tenacious forwards who do their job.”
From there, it was up to Seymour and the Greely defense to hold firm.
With 12:05 to go, the Rangers and their fans had their hearts leap into their throats when the puck sat loose in front of the Greely goal before it was cleared.
Then, Leavitt-EL’s chances took a serious hit with 10:07 to play when Landry received a game misconduct for a hit from behind.
Greely actually had a two-man power play, but couldn’t score and the game remained 1-0 into the final minute. There, the Red Hornets pulled Sanford.
With 20 seconds to play, Greely senior Halley Taylor broke up a rush and Leavitt-EL was never able to get a shot on goal. The final horn sounded and the Rangers rushed to Seymour to celebrate en masse.
“It was very exciting,” said Howland. “We knew we had to play three hard periods, which we had trouble doing before. We knew we had to play defensively and we did it. We love Emma. We love having her behind us. We’re always confident she’ll play a great game.”
“It was huge,” Guerin said. “We have a couple top forwards and a top defender out. We were shorthanded, but we made it happen. We knew we could control the flow. We worked hard to get pucks deep on them. They ended up having to ice it a lot and that helped us a lot. Losing (Landry) helped us. She’s their gun. We told (the girls) to win their shift and do their job and they did it tonight.”
Seymour was on from the onset. In fact, a different type of pre-game preparation helped her focus.
“I just started juggling a few games ago,” said Seymour, who made 13 saves. “I figured it would be a good idea to get my hands warmed up before games. I think it helps get in a good mindset.
“When a team’s ahead it’s almost scarier because the other team has so much drive because their season’s on the line. I got a little rattled and didn’t focus as much, but I got back in the zone and settled down.”
“(Emma) made big-time saves,” Guerin said. “She stopped a breakaway or two. She tracked the puck well. She knew where it was and she was in position. She’s been strong all year and this is one of her best games of the year. With her, we have a chance to win, which is nice.”
While Leavitt-EL’s season came to a close at 11-7-1, Greely is far from finished.
Wednesday, back at Portland Ice Arena, the Rangers will square off with No. 1 Brunswick (15-3-1 after a 6-1 win over Yarmouth in its semifinal) for the right to go to the state final (which is Feb. 18 at the Colisee in Lewiston).
The good news is that Greely won both regular season meetings (5-1 at home Jan. 7 and 4-1 at Brunswick two weeks later). The bad is that the Rangers just showed how difficult it is to beat a good team three times.
Regardless, Greely enters the game confident.
“It’s going to be a tough one, but we’re ready to play,” Howland said. “I think we have what it takes. If we all come ready, we’re a good team.”
“I definitely think we can get them again,” said Seymour. ” It’ll be a tough game, but I think we’ll come out on top.”
“We’re motivated,” Guerin added. “We have a lot of heart and drive. They’re a dangerous team. They have a good goalkeeping, girls who can score. I expect it’ll be another one-goal game. It’ll be close.”
The Greely girls’ hockey celebrates Saturday’s 1-0 win over Leavitt-EL in the East Region semifinals. The Rangers will battle top-seeded Brunswick in the regional final Wednesday.