LEWISTON—Greely hockey’s championship hopes were put to rest Wednesday evening.
Courtesy longtime rival York.
The Rangers and Wildcats renewed postseason hostilities in the Western Class B Final at the Colisee and despite vanquishing York twice in the regular season, Greely couldn’t complete the sweep and earn a spot in Saturday’s state game.
Greely’s first three goals were answered almost immediately by the Wildcats, who opened up a lead after one period and held it the rest of the way en route to a 6-4 victory, as York continued to peak at the right time and earn a state final remtach versus powerhouse Brewer Saturday back in Lewiston.
“We knew we had to play well to win tonight,” said Rangers coach Barry Mothes, whose team ended its fine year at 15-4-1. “I thought there were a lot of good things out there tonight, but obviously the scoreboard said 6-4 and that’s the way it was.”
Here we go again
The Rangers and Wildcats have enjoyed an epic rivalry over the past decade, meeting in eight of the past 10 postseasons.
In both the 2001 and 2003 Western B quarterfinals, Greely tied the game in the waning seconds, but lost in double-overtime by 3-2 scores. The Rangers turned the tide in 2004 when Andrew Bisbing’s goal as time expired (or after the horn as York fans still insist) gave Greely a 5-4 quarterfinal round win. The next year produced an even more improbable victory in the semifinals, when the Rangers scored twice in the final seconds to force overtime, where they won, 5-4.
After a year with no playoff meeting, Greely edged York, 2-1, in the 2007 Western B Final for its first regional championship. The Wildcats got a measure of revenge with a 4-3 regional final victory in 2008, but en route to their first and only championship, the Rangers routed York, 8-0, in the 2009 semifinals. Last winter, despite being heavy underdogs, Greely pushed the Wildcats to the brink, falling, 3-2, in the semis.
The squads met twice this year, with Greely winning on both occasions, 6-2 at York way back on Dec. 18 and 3-0 at home, Jan. 27. The Rangers wound up with a 14-3-1 regular season mark, which gave them the top seed for the playoffs. Saturday, in the semifinals, Greely eliminated No. 4 Yarmouth, 4-2.
The Wildcats, after a 3-4 start, finished the regular year on a 10-1 tear (the 3-0 loss at Greely was the lone exception) and earned the No. 2 seed with a 13-5 mark. After dispatching No. 3 Cape Elizabeth, 5-1, Saturday, York set its sights on winning the region.
Wednesday, both teams had chances in the early going.
Just 1 minute, 37 seconds into the 15-minute first period, Greely junior Peter Stauber fed senior Devyn Rogers in front, but Rogers’ bid was turned aside by York senior goalie Alex Ahrikenchikh.
At the other end, the Wildcats couldn’t take advantage of a flurry in front of the Rangers’ goal and sophomore Zachary Franklin failed to reach a loose puck in front of the cage.
With 9:05 left in the first, Greely nearly went on top when sophomore Erik Rost’s shot was saved, only to sit free in front of Ahrikenchikh, but no one was there to bang it home. At the 7;43 mark, junior Jordan Tarbox tried to feed cutting junior Griffen Demick, but Ahrikenchickh broke up the pass at the last second.
Seven seconds later, York junior Conor O’Brien was sent to the penalty box for elbowing and Greely took advantage.
Skaing in, senior Justin Murphy passed to junior Andrew Hackett, whose shot somehow squirted home to break the ice.
The Wildcats took all of 22 seconds to draw even, as senior Dillon DellaPasqua fed senior George Lindblom for the equalizer.
With 4:50 left in the first, Murphy was called for hooking and York took advantage, going up, 2-1, when O’Brien (from sophomore Wes Warner) rocketed a slapshot past Labbe with 3:55 showing.
Greely hoped to answer late in the first and get the equalizer, but Hackett’s wrist shot was saved and a last-second flurry was turned aside.
In the second, the Wildcats gave the Rangers an immediate chance to go back on top when junior Shane Hughes was sent to the penalty box for tripping and just five seconds into the power play, with 14:06 to go, sophomore Kenny Richards was at the doorstep to redirect Rogers’ shot past Ahrikenchickh to make it 2-2. Stauber was also credited with an assist.
That seemed to give Greely the life it needed, but the Rangers couldn’t regain the lead.
After sophomore Tim Storey and Richards both had shots denied, Murphy fed Hackett on the doorstep, but the shot was saved.
Then, York went back on top.
After taking a pass from Hughes, junior Craig Decato skated in on the right side and wristed a shot past Storey and a screened Labbe to make it 3-2 Wildcats with 9:38 to go.
With 7:26 remaining in the second, freshman Ted Hart was sent to the box for a questionable boarding penalty.
O’Brien tried to double the lead with a slapshot immediately after winning the faceoff, but Labbe made a glove save. He later denied Warner and Decato, but with time winding down on the penalty, senior Anthony Figlioli (from sophomore Jared Clauson) got free and his shot was slowed but not stopped by Labbe and the York lead was 4-2.
“If you watched this game minute-to-minute, there were a lot of things that had enormous impact,” Mothes said. “We had a couple really tough penalty calls go against us that led to power play goals. Those goals were huge.”
The Rangers, with their hopes dimming, answered before period’s end.
Off a faceoff in the Wildcats’ end, Downey’s shot was saved, but Hackett was there for the rebound and hammered it home past Ahrikenchickh and Greely’s deficit was back to a manageable one, 4-3.
But in a fitting representation of the frustrating night, York roared right back to restore the two-goal bulge.
Figlioli took a pass from Decato, raced in and beat Labbe, but the shot struck the post. Clauson was there for the rebound, however, and scored and the Wildcats held a 5-3 advantage with 15 minutes to go.
“Those instances (York immediately answering Greely goals) hurt, but I don’t think that was the game,” Mothes said. “You hate to give up goals so quickly after getting one.”
In the third, York put the finishing touches on its upset win.
Early in the third, the Rangers applied great pressure, but couldn’t score. The best bids came when Hackett redirected Rost’s shot just wide and seconds later, Murphy’s pass skittered across the goal mouth, but no one was there to steer it home.
With 10;42 to go, Murphy fired a shot that deflected off of Ahrikenchikh’s left pad and got past him, but it rolled wide.
With 8:51 remaining, Downey stole the puck and skated in, but his shot was deflected into the crowd. The Wildcats then raced down looking to ice it, but Figlioli was turned aside by Labbe.
Greely then got a great opportunity with 8:11 to go when DellaPasqua slashed Murphy and was sent to the box, but on the ensuing power play, Decato stole the puck, launched a shot that Labbe slowed, but couldn’t stop and Figlioli was there to bury the rebound, all but icing the win, 6-3.
The Rangers wouldn’t quit and kept the pressure on, but first, Ahrikenchickh denied Richards, then stoned Rogers with 4 minutes to play, keeping it 6-3.
Mothes pulled Labbe with just under three minutes remaining and after the Wildcats just missed on a couple opportunities for an empty net goal, Hackett (on a rebound of a Murphy shot) completed his hat trick and made it 6-4 with 1;50 to play.
Mothes called timeout, hoping for a miracle, but it wasn’t to be.
With 1:09 left, Clauson went to the box for a hold and Greely had a chance to pull even closer up two skaters.
Hart had a chance to make it 6-5 with 1:01 showing, but his backhanded shot was saved. Then, Rost’s blast hit the post (the Rangers’ fans thought it was a goal), but the puck was cleared out of harm’s way.
With 23 seconds to go, Figlioli cleared the puck and after Murphy just missed on a shot with time winding down, that was all she wrote.
The Wildcats ran out the clock and celebrated their 6-4 victory.
“There are a lot of disappointed guys in that locker room and coaches too,” said Mothes. “We had hoped to get back here Saturday. Giving up six goals is a difficult task to overcome. I don’t feel like they’re a better hockey team than we are. I didn’t think necessarily it would be a 6-4 game. Things happened fast and furious.
“I feel like we created chances to have seven or eight goals. We just didn’t finish at times. I give York credit for having strong sticks around the net. We had a lot of pressure. Even in that last three minutes and I know we were up 6-on-4 for part of it, we could have had two or three goals. It was frustrating. The guys made good plays. We had good numbers to the net. We had good give-and-goes. It’s tough to take. We had chances to make it 6-5 with over a minute left.”
York (15-5) managed 31 shots to Greely’s 27. Labbe stopped 25 shots. Ahrikenchickh made 23 saves.
“I congratulate York,” Mothes said. “They’ve had a good, strong second half. They’re playing well and I wish them the best on Saturday.”
The Wildcats meet 19-0-1 powerhouse Brewer in the state game. The Witches beat York in last year’s Class B Final.
Tough finish, promising future
Greely, which loses seven seniors, continued the program’s recent tradition of excellence.
“As I recall, we weren’t necessarily picked to finish first, but we got off to a strong start and stayed in first all year,” Mothes said. “Our goals were pretty high. They were realistic. Anything short of winning on Saturday would have felt like a disappointment. That’s what it’s like on this stage. We had an opportunity. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
“It hurts to see the high school careers end for some great seniors. They weren’t necessarily key guys on the ’09 team, but they had the experience. Their goal as seniors was to win it all and it should have been. We’ll step back and appreciate them.”
The Rangers return a lot of players who saw big-time minutes in Wednesday’s game and it’s safe to say that Greely will again make a run at the top spot in 2011-12.
“We have a lot of returning players in that room who are lucky enough to keep playing high school hockey,” said Mothes. “That includes Kyle Megathlin, a sophomore defenseman. We haven’t had him since Jan. 6. We would have been a better team with him. We’ll be excited to regroup and try again.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @foresports