Greely girls edge St. Dom's in battle of unbeatens

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Greely sophomore Bridget Roberts (7) congratulates senior Maura Verrill after Verrill’s goal in the first minute of the Rangers’ 2-1 victory over St. Dom’s Wednesday night. Roberts scored the winner in the third period as Greely stayed undefeated.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

FALMOUTH—Greely’s powerhouse girls’ hockey team hadn’t faced much of a challenge this winter, but the Rangers were pushed in a big way Wednesday night at Family Ice Center when the fast and talented Saints of St. Dominic Academy paid a visit in a battle of unbeatens.

It took just 31 seconds for Greely to get on the board, as senior Maura Verrill scored, but the Saints rallied to tie on a rebound goal later in the first period, then had several opportunities to take the lead, only to see Rangers junior goalie Nica Todd deny every single one.

The game remained deadlocked into the third period where Greely got a save from Todd at one end, then transitioned to the other, where sophomore Bridget Roberts finished for a 2-1 lead.

Todd and her defensive mates did the rest and the Rangers went on to win their 11th game without a loss, dropping St. Dom’s to 8-1 in the process.

“We’re lucky to be on the winning side,” said Greely coach Nate Guerin. “They’re a very strong team. Young, but they have got some hockey players. They’re fast and skilled. They made it fun. They’re the best team we’ve seen.”

Two of the best

The Rangers and Saints have been on a collision course since the season started.

St. Dom’s won its first eight games by a composite 76-10 margin, scoring in double figures on five occasions, while Greely passed its first 10 tests.

The Rangers opened by downing host Biddeford (9-0), then beat visiting Brunswick (8-1), Winslow (11-0), Mt. Ararat (8-0) and Edward Little/Leavitt (5-2). Greely then won at defending state champion Lewiston (3-1), Edward Little/Leavitt (3-1), Winslow (7-1) and Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete/South Portland (12-0) before downing visiting Falmouth in the Dudley Cup on New Year’s Day, 3-0.

Last year, the Rangers twice beat the Saints, 11-2 in Auburn and 7-0 in Falmouth.

Wednesday, Greely did what it needed to remain undefeated and atop the standings.

The Rangers pressured from the opening puck drop and 31 seconds into the game, Verrill launched a shot which eluded St. Dom’s sophomore goalie Payton Winslow for a quick 1-0 lead. Senior Danita Storey was credited with an assist.

The Saints then showed off their speed and ability to create chances, but Todd denied freshman Bugsy Hammerton, freshman Emma Theriault, freshman Kristina Cornelio and Hammerton again to preserve the lead.

After Winslow stopped Greely sophomore Courtney Sullivan, Todd robbed St. Dom’s sophomore Callie Samson on the doorstep.

After Winslow robbed both Storey and senior Erin Molloy, the visitors went on the power play, but Todd stopped a bid from freshman Isabel Frenette.

The Saints finally broke through and tied the score with 3:16 to go in the first on a controversial play.

Cornelio sent a shot in from the blue line and while Todd made the save, the rebound sat free in front of the goal and amid a scrum, Todd got pushed into the cage and the puck found its way in as well. Much to the Rangers’ chagrin, Hammerton was credited with the goal and the game was tied, 1-1.

“With all the confusion, the puck was between my pads,” Todd said. “I got pushed in the net and when I did, the puck came with me. I wasn’t happy with the call, but I moved on.”

Both teams had chances to go on top in the second period, but couldn’t finish.

Todd denied sophomore Avery Lutrzykowski and Hammerton, while Winslow prevented shots from junior Ellie Schad, Sullivan, Molloy and Storey and Storey also hit the post, keeping the score 1-1 heading for the final period.

Early in the third period, St. Dom’s looked to take the lead, but Lutrzykowski’s rush was broken up.

With 11:26 remaining, Lutrzykowski set up Cornelio in front, but Todd somehow made the save.

If that wasn’t good enough for Greely, Schad raced into the offensive zone and the puck eventually came to Roberts, who finished for a 2-1 lead with 11:15 to go (Storey was also credited with an assist).

“Ellie brought it up really well and dished it to me and I finished,” said Roberts. “It was a really nice pass. I was scared because we still had the rest of the period to go.”

Sure enough, the Saints wouldn’t make things easy.

Todd had to stop bids from Hammerton, Frenette and senior Tia Rotolico.

With 1:11 remaining, a shot from freshman Dasha Fons from the side was kicked aside by Todd.

Rotolico’s shot was then blocked by Rangers freshman Jayme Morrison.

“We hadn’t been that successful blocking shots until this game,” Guerin said. “That was a big focus for us.”

Todd’s last save was arguably her best, as she stonewalled Hammerton in front with 48.3 seconds showing.

“I try to keep where the other players are in the back of my mind,” said Todd. “It’s conditioning. Dry-land training helps me push from one end to the other.”

Greely ran out the clock from there and celebrated a hard-earned 2-1 victory.

“This was a fun kind of game,” Roberts said. “We were really excited for this game coming off the Dudley Cup. It’s the first game that’s been that close and tested us as a team.”

“I’d love to have 2-1 games all the time,” Guerin said. “It makes it fun.”

Greely got 25 saves from Todd, who stood tall from start to finish.

“It was the whole team,” said Todd. “Communication is key. My defense did a great job and helped me a lot. I have to give credit to them. I just tried to stay focused on the next shot. Games like this are way more fun for me, having the action. I knew it would be close. I tried to think it was 0-0 the whole game.”

“Nica played amazing,” said Roberts. “That’s the best game she’s ever had. She kept us in it.”

“Nica was awesome,” Guerin added. “She was our best player. It had to be that way because she faced so many shots from every angle. Shots from the point, rebounds in front. She was on the money tonight and we needed that or it would have been 5-2, 6-2 them. She’s developed a lot. To her credit, she’s put in the work in the offseason. She wants to learn.”

Title push

St. Dom’s (second in the North Region Heal Points standings) looks to get back on track Saturday when Edward Little/Leavitt pays a visit. The Saints welcome Greely Jan. 25.

Top-ranked Greely welcomes Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG Saturday, then goes to Brunswick and Mt. Ararat. After hosting defending state champion Lewiston, the Rangers go to Yarmouth/Freeport/GNG, visit St. Dom’s, then close at home versus presently undefeated Scarborough.

“We have to keep working hard in practice and keep working as a team,” Roberts said.

“January’s going to be a good month,” Guerin said. “We started it with two tough games and end it with two tough games. That’s great. That’s what it’s all about. We still need to do a better job clearing pucks. That was our most glaring error in this game, our D zone coverage, but it’s a great group. The girls are just awesome.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Greely junior goalie Nica Todd denies St. Dom’s junior Lexie Kesaris.

Greely junior Ellie Schad sends the puck on net.

Greely senior standout Danita Storey tries in vain to score in traffic.

Greely sophomore Courtney Sullivan skates in as St. Dom’s freshman Isabel Frenette defends.

Greely junior Victoria Lattanzi races up the ice.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.