The Greely boys’ hockey team has more than lived up to preseason expectations, but is currently in the midst of a brutal stretch of its schedule.
Greely won nine of its first 10 games, averaging five goals per contest, while surrendering just over one. The Rangers’ only close calls came at Westbrook Dec. 21 (a 2-1 victory) and a scoreless home tie versus Western A contender South Portland on Jan. 8. Greely downed York, 6-2, in the teams’ first meeting, Dec. 18.
The Wildcats came to Family Ice Center in Falmouth last Thursday on a high, having won four straight, but despite a fierce effort, their streak would come to a halt.
Greely took advantage of a shot that deflected off a Wildcats’ defender into the goal, then added two empty netters in the final minute to support the stellar 29-save effort of senior goalie Matt Labbe to win, 3-0.
The teams (who have split eight memorable playoff meetings over the past decade) were scoreless after one period, even though York had the better of play, outshooting the Rangers, 10-3. Labbe turned away every bid and the teams went to the intermission scoreless.
In the second, Greely would get the only goal it needed with 13:14 to play when a York defender came flying into the play and deflected the puck right past the goalie and into the net. Rangers senior Justin Murphy was credited with the goal (with sophomore Kenny Richards and senior Devyn Rogers getting assists) and Greely had a 1-0 advantage.
“We got lucky on the one goal, but it happens,” said Labbe. “It’s happened to me multiple times.”
In the third period, the Rangers had to dodge several scares before finally putting the win on ice. Labbe came up big on at least four occasions to keep it a one-goal game.
“I went out and saw the puck well,” Labbe said. “The defensemen did a good job clearing guys out so I could see the puck. York came out flying in the first period with 10 shots. That put me in a rhythm and I stayed in it.”
“There’s nobody else I’d want in (goal),” added Mothes. “It’s not just (Matt). We did a good job in the third period, but we’re still learning to shut the hatches down on a game. Keep the puck safe and on the outside. We still move it through the middle too much for my taste.”
With 1:01 remaining, York took timeout and after getting the puck in Greely’s zone, pulled its goalie for an extra attacker, but it immediately backfired as Rogers stole the puck, skated in and calmly tucked a shot into the empty net for a 2-0 lead with 49.6 seconds left. If that wasn’t enough, off the ensuing faceoff, again with the goalie out of the cage, Richards took a pass from junior Pete Stauber, skated in and scored to ice the victory. The Rangers then ran out the clock on their 3-0 win, which was much, much closer than the final score indicated.
“We had a good solid tempo in the first period, even though we didn’t score,” Labbe said. “We didn’t have as many shots as I would have liked, but we carried the play for awhile. We were solid in the second and third.”
“It wasn’t a 3-0 game,” added Mothes. “It was tight. It was a one-goal game on a fluky goal. I was pleased that we had some good possessions. Offensively, our puck movement and possession was as good as it’s been in awhile. I thought our guys, starting with Matt in net, who was really focused and solid as heck and our D did a nice job. I was pleased with the total team effort.
“Frankly, we need games like this. We’re in a stretch of really tough games. Tonight was an important challenge for us. We’ve been a little inconsistent for my taste since Christmas. We’ve had good periods here and there, but I thought tonight, the effort shift to shift was really good.”
York finished with a 29-22 advantage in shots on goal.
“(York) played hard,” Mothes said. “I expected it to be a game like this. I thought it would be a playoff-caliber game. Good speed up and down. They’ve played well for three or four weeks. They’re jelling as a team. I congratulate them for playing a good, hard game. They’re probably over there thinking they’ll see us again. We’re thinking we might see them again. It will be a good game if that happens.”
Saturday, the undefeated run ended with a 5-2 home loss to Biddeford.
Greely (10-1-1) had two early power-play opportunities but it couldn’t capitalize. It mustered only four shots in the opening period compared to Biddeford’s (9-0-2) 18 and the Tigers raced to a 3-0 lead.
“I thought we were doing alright in the first period for awhile,” Mothes said. “We were a little shaky with the puck, they struck quickly and it hurt. We had two power plays when the game was scoreless. In a big game against a really good team you hope you can do something on the power play early to give you a lift. Even if you don’t score you hope you can generate some momentum. We didn’t do a good job getting a lift out of them.”
Senior captain John Downey cut the deficit to two midway through the second, streaking up the right side boards and blistering a slapshot past Biddeford goalie Jon Fields from the top of the circle. Stauber was credited with an assist.
WIth 2:49 to play in the period, the Rangers came inches from making it a one-goal game. Junior Griffin Demick fired a similar shot to Downey’s, but it rang the iron and the score stayed 3-1.
After a disastrous first period, Greely was clearly winning the second, but with 28 seconds remaining, a turnover at the blueline led to a backbreaking Biddeford goal, which made it 4-1 Tigers.
“It really hurt. Really hurt,” Mothes said. “You hate to give a goal up at any time, but especially the last minute of a period. We just didn’t take care of the puck. Next thing you know they are taking it at our net and we’re pulling it out of the net.”
The Rangers didn’t quit in the third, however, pulling back within two just 1:25 into the period when Rogers scored from the high slot with an assist from Richards, but that’s as close as Greely could get.
Greely (the top-ranked team in regional Heal Points standings) visited another top Western B rival, third-ranked Cape Elizabeth (which has won nine of 10), Tuesday. Thursday, Greely hosts the other team in the Western B playoff picture, No. 4 Yarmouth (8-5).
The Rangers remain the regional favorite and hope to make it two state championships in three seasons, but there is still a long way to go.
“We have a good record, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Labbe said.
Freelance writer Keith Wehmeyer contributed to this story
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Greely senior Devyn Rogers fires home an empty net goal to help clinch last week’s 3-0 home win over York.
Greely junor Jordan Tarbox fights a pair of York defenders for possession of the puck. The Rangers have beaten every team but defending Class A champion Biddeford this winter.