PORTLAND—They could have folded.
No one would have blamed them.
After a long season full of stirring wins and maddening losses, the Greely boys’ hockey team finished up with a losing record yet some serious math landed the defending state champion the final playoff berth anyways.
When the calculator finally stopped smoldering, Greely had drawn top-ranked York, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the Wildcats had jumped out to a very quick 2-0 advantage and led 3-1 with four-minutes still left to play in the opening period of Saturday night’s Western Class B semifinal at the Portland Ice Arena.
But pulling on a maroon-and-white Greely hockey sweater comes with certain responsibilities. The first one, defending this proud program, laid the foundation for the Rangers responding with their best game of the season.
Behind an outstanding defensive effort from senior captain Carter Cyr and equally tenacious offensive play from junior winger Justin Murphy, the fourth-ranked Rangers got tough and closed to within a goal to start the second period, and then stayed right there in a hard-fought 3-2 loss, which ended their reign as Class B state champions.
After winning it all one year ago, Greely returned this year with just five seniors in the mix, finished 8-9-2 with three of the losses provided by the Wildcats, including the first and last of the season. It would have been easy for Greely to pack it in after falling behind early to a team they had yet to beat, but the Rangers put together a gritty effort and held York scoreless over the final 34 minutes of hard-hitting hockey.
“I’m proud of how the guys hung in there and battled back,” said Greely coach Barry Mothes. “They really dug down and played with a lot of heart and commitment. We talked about playing our best game of the season tonight and in terms of effort we did that. It’s something the seniors should be proud of and the younger kids can learn from. Anyone that was at this game will tell you it was a very close hockey game. It’s a sign of how this team has grown in terms of maturity and character.”
What makes the Rangers refusal to simply lie down and call it a season even more impressive was the painful fashion in which York gained its two-goal lead to start the game, one score very quickly and the other very questionable. Precisely one minute into the game, York led 1-0 when a slapper from the point off the stick of junior Anthony Figlioli found its way to the back of the net past shielded junior goalie Matt Labbe (25 saves).
Not a great start, but these things happen. It’s only one goal, and while it did come on York’s first shot of the game, there was time to get even. But true disaster struck just 2:36 later on the Wildcats second goal, which technically wasn’t even a shot on goal except for the fact it went in.
Chasing down the puck toward the bench-side post at the blue line, Wildcats sophomore Arran Maran, hastily attempting to make sure he kept it in the zone, simply wheeled and let one fly in the general direction of Labbe but nowhere in particular. What happens next is up for debate, but one way or another it surprised everyone in the building when the puck went between Labbe’s pads for a 2-0 York advantage.
This is when Murphy, the Rangers’ crafty left-winger, scored the prettiest goal of both semifinal round games to stave off certain catastrophe. With York settled in the zone and moving the puck defense to defense at the blue line, Greely junior Johnny Downey got a stick on the puck and deflected it toward center ice. Murphy swooped in to collect it and broke in alone to face York junior goalie Alex Ahrikenchikh (18 saves). In hockey it’s called the backhanded deke, but it sure looked prettier than it sounds when Murphy dropped Ahrikenchikh to his pads and flipped it up and in with the backside of his blade to pull the Rangers within a goal at 2-1 with 10 minutes still to play in the first.
“Being down two goals it was important to score there and get us back in it,” said Murphy. “They got a lucky goal and it ended up standing all game. The defense played great for us tonight. They were pretty young and I think Carter (Cyr), being a senior, stepped it up and made sure he led the team.”
The score remained 2-1 for the next five-plus minutes until Greely freshmen Erik Rost was called for tripping and went to the box for a two-minute break. After just 11 seconds on the power play, York senior captain Tanner Chase let fly a blistering low-slapper that Labbe never even saw to make it 3-1 with 4:36 left in the first period.
Still, the Rangers pressed on. Less than a minute after York had opened its second two-goal lead of the opening period, Greely freshmen Kyle Megathlin ripped a slapper toward the crease that deflected off a Wildcats stick and ricocheted off senior captain Ben Walsh’s chest and into the back of the net to close the gap to 3-2 with 3:47 left in the first.
Amazingly, after five goals in the first, neither team would score again over the remaining two periods. And while it was Chase’s slapper that will go down in the book as the game-winner, York’s second goal that somehow eluded everyone and found the back of the net is the one Greely will remember over the long off-season.
“We had a couple weeks to get ready to come out and play the way we wanted to,” said Cyr. “We felt fortunate to get in the playoffs because it came down to a lot of math. We decided it was time to get serious. We had to try and find a way to beat a team like York, or at least play with them. I can’t say one person didn’t come to work for every practice, even the young kids. Its unfortunate it had to end this way. We hit the post there when we could have tied it up, and they got a gift goal. But that’s the way it goes. They can’t all be pretty. We went hard out there and tried to make the most of it.”
The Rangers will miss Cyr next season, along with Walsh, defensemen Casey Stevenson, and forwards Jason Lewis and Nick Barnes, but there is plenty of talent returning and there’s no reason to believe Greely won’t be right back in contention as usual.
Greely sophomore Pete Stauber looks for an open teammate during the Rangers Western B semifinal round showdown with York Saturday night. Despite a solid 45-minute effort, Greely’s season ended with a 3-2 loss.