Greely's up to the challenge; Rangers upset Gardiner, advance to regional final

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Greely senior Jack Saffian (21) is congratulated by freshman Andrew Moore and senior Colby Robinson (4) after scoring the Rangers’ fourth goal in their 5-2 win over top-ranked Gardiner in Friday’s Class B South semifinal. Greely advanced to meet York in the regional final Wednesday.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

LEWISTON—An unheralded team that was once 3-5 and almost completely devoid of playoff experience wasn’t expected to do much this postseason, but the Greely Rangers have awakened the echoes and find themselves one win from playing for an improbable state championship.

Friday evening at the Colisee, the fourth-ranked Rangers took on top-seeded Gardiner in a Class B South boys’ hockey semifinal and put on a pretty impressive show as their late-season surge shows no signs of relenting.

Greely went on top for good just over four minutes in, as freshman Jake MacDonald scored on a rebound. The Rangers weren’t able to add to the lead, but they got 11 saves from senior goalie Josh Lawless to stay on top heading into the first intermission.

In the second period, Greely got a fortuitous bounce and a second goal just 28 seconds in, as senior Ryan Megathlin buried a puck that ricocheted off the boards right on to his stick in front of the net.

The Tigers appeared to come to life with 10:06 remaining in the second period, when junior Connor Manter got them on the board, but 48 seconds later, Greely freshman Matt Kramlich continued his strong postseason with a goal and with 4:49 to play in the period, senior captain Jack Saffian scored on a rebound for a 4-1 advantage.

The Rangers didn’t sit on the lead in the third period, but as expected, Gardiner tried to rally only to be turned away time and again by Lawless.

With 1:02 to play, freshman Andy Moore ended all doubt by scoring his team’s fifth goal and while the Tigers did get a goal from sophomore Cameron Bourassa with under a minute left, Greely was able to go on to a 5-2 victory.

The Rangers made it 11 wins in 12 games, improved to 14-6, ended Gardiner’s season at 13-6 and advanced to meet red-hot York (16-2-1) in the Class B South Final Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Lewiston.

“I can’t say enough positively of how proud I am tonight,” said longtime Greely coach Barry Mothes. “For a lot of the guys, it was their first big playoff game. The way we put together three periods tonight was fabulous. I couldn’t have asked for a more mature, composed effort.”

Team of destiny?

Greely spent much of the regular season coming of age and hitting its stride, but the Rangers won nine of their final 10 games to not only make the playoffs, but earn the No. 4 seed in Class B South and with it, a home quarterfinal. Tuesday, Greely eliminated fifth-seeded Kennebunk, 5-2.

Gardiner lost to Yarmouth in last year’s regional final and this winter, won 13 games and earned the top seed in the region. The Tigers earned a bye into the semifinals.

Host Gardiner won the season opener, 3-2, Dec. 10, but Greely prevailed, 5-4, on its home ice Feb. 8.

The teams had no playoff history.

Friday, in their first trip to Lewiston for a playoff game in three years, the Rangers played like they were the top seed, as they controlled play much of the way and earned an impressive win.

Greely came out strong and got the first shot 71 seconds in, but a bid from junior Matt Dubbert was denied by Gardiner senior goalkeeper Michael Poirier’s pad.

After Lawless made his first save, on a shot from Tigers sophomore Tanner Hebert, MacDonald was denied by Poirier.

The next time, however, MacDonald wouldn’t be stopped.

With 10:58 left in the first period, after a failed clear by Gardiner, sophomore Jackson Williams fired a shot which Poirier saved, but the rebound sat free for MacDonald, who found the net for a 1-0 lead.

The Tigers looked to answer, but Lawless saved senior Jacob Folsom’s shot, senior Tristan Hebert had a shot saved and Lawless also cleared the rebound and bids from Manter and sophomore Joseph Clark were also saved by Lawless.

At the other end, Greely looked to double its lead, but Megathlin shot just wide, Poirier made a save on a shot by Dubbert after a turnover, then the goalie denied MacDonald on the doorstep.

Late in the period, Lawless denied Clark with his right pad and Poirier stopped junior Quinn Molloy and Megathlin on a rebound.

With 1:14 left, the Rangers went on the power play, but the best chance went to Gardiner, as senior Ryan Kelley stole the puck, eluded one defender and went one-on-one with Lawless, but his backhanded bid was saved and Greely took a 1-0 advantage to the first intermission.

In the first period, Greely enjoyed a 13-11 edge in shots on goal.

In the second period, the Rangers opened up a healthy lead.

Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good and after Saffian had a shot saved nine seconds in, Moore kept possession and got the puck to senior captain Ryan Sullivan, who shot just wide, but the rebound popped in front to Megathlin and he tucked it in at 28 seconds for a 2-0 lead.

“When you’re playing well and doing what you want to do, bounces tend to go your way,” Saffian said.

Lawless kept it 2-0 by denying junior Charles Stevens, getting a big break when Bourassa shot wide of an open net, then denying senior Tristan Hebert.

Gardiner did break through at 4:54 of the second, as junior Cameron Bigelow set up Manter for a blue line blast that got past Lawless, but the Rangers didn’t buckle and came right back to open it up even more. 

Just 48 seconds after Manter’s goal, Kramlich did what Kramlich does, making a tremendous individual play, scoring on the backhand while being pulled down and the lead was back to two.

“Things can go either way in these games and that was the case in the middle of the second period,” Mothes said. “Gardiner had a couple surges, but we found a way to regroup. We worked hard to get a break on Kramlich’s goal. That probably wasn’t his strongest shot, but a backhander had good speed and found its way in. That was a huge goal.” 

After failing to score on one power play, the Tigers got a chance to go on another at 8:25, but a mere 16 seconds later, junior Sloan Berthiaume was called for a major roughing penalty and came out for five minutes, followed by a 10-minute misconduct.

After Gardiner sophomore Matthew Poirier was given a tripping penalty, Greely got its fourth goal playing 4-on-3.

Senior Adam Rost sent the puck on net, Michael Poirier made the save, but the rebound came out to Saffian and he wouldn’t be denied, finishing to make it a three-goal game.

“Adam shot it on net, it bounced to me and I put it away,” Saffian said. “It was a big goal to make it 4-1. I haven’t played here since summer league before my freshman year. Scoring in my first game here was an unbelievable experience. When they made it 2-1, they kind of had the momentum, but we grabbed one right back and got another one.”

“We use our foot speed to pressure and pursue the puck,” Mothes said. “It took awhile to get that pressure this season, but it’s exciting to see it growing. I’m a former forward and I like to play the game in the other team’s end, but you have to work hard to win and possess pucks. The guys are getting smarter and it’s really fun to see. That’s been a very important part of our season. When we were sitting at 3-5, we were struggling to get pucks in the net. We weren’t generating dangerous pressure.” 

The Rangers had a chance to go ahead by even more late in the second, but Kramlich was denied.

Regardless, Greely took a comfortable 4-1 lead to the second intermission.

In the third period, the Rangers turned to their defense and to a nearly flawless Lawless to put it away.

Early in the third, Lawless twice denied Clark.

With 8:18 to play, Kramlich had a chance to ice it, but he was robbed by the glove of Poirier.

Gardiner then went back on the attack, but Lawless stopped shots by Bourassa, senior Alexander Porter, senior Ryan Kelley and Clark.

After Dubbert’s attempt at a clincher was turned aside by Poirier, Lawless denied senior Jacob Folsom, Clark, Clark again and Hebert.

With 3:26 to play, Moore was sent off for tripping, but the Tigers couldn’t capitalize, as their lone shot, off the stick of Folsom, was kicked aside by Lawless. 

Then, with 1:02 left, Moore delivered the coup de grace, skating in and beating Poirier just inside the far post.

The Tigers had one final highlight, as a shot by Porter bounced off Bourassa and went into the net with 46.9 seconds to play, but Greely ran out the clock from there and celebrated its 5-2 triumph.

“We’ve played really well lately,” Saffian said. “Once we get rolling, it’s hard to stop us.  When we were 3-5, the seniors sat down and we had a meeting and we said, ‘This is it, it’s our last year.’ We knew we were better than our record. We knew we had potential, it was just about executing. We just had to stay calm tonight. We couldn’t get overwhelmed by the rink or the situation. We fed off it. Getting off to a lead against a team like that was huge. Then, we were able to stick to our game plan.”

“Chemistry has to do with a lot it,” Lawless said. “We’re a very tight team. I believe in everyone. We’re taking it one shift, one shot, one period at a time.”

“We worked hard to get the lead, then I was proud and pleased with how we played in the third period,” Mothes added. “We didn’t want to go in a shell, but we knew they’d come out hard and we wanted to play our best period of the year in terms of puck management and being smart and we did. That goal at the end was unfortunate, but for 14 minutes, we made smart decisions and took care of the puck. We talked about that all year and we’re getting better at it at a very important time of the year. When we were 3-5, I’m not sure I’d have said we’d go 11-1, but I thought we could work ourselves to a place where we had a chance to win every game. 

“My pregame talk tonight was basically short. I said, ‘I think you guys know what you need to do. You know how to play, right?’ They said they did and that was it.”

Greely finished with a 31-30 edge in shots on goal and got 28 saves from Lawless, who served as a backup his first two years, split time in goal as a junior and is now earning his moment in the limelight.

“It was incredible (playing here),” Lawless said. “It was the biggest game of my life. Being a backup for two years and splitting time last year, it was nice to have the spotlight. I think I perform well under pressure. The team was counting on me.”

“(Josh has) been fantastic all year,” Saffian said. “He’s always come through for us.” 

“Josh had another nice, composed, solid game,” Mothes added. “It’s not like he had to play out of his shoes, but he faced tough shots, trailers coming behind shots. There weren’t a lot of rebounds and when there were, he steered them away from the net. I’m happy for him. He’s been in a backup role in most of his high school career. He’s had an opportunity to emerge and he’s stuck with it.”

Gardiner got 26 saves from Gamache.

One more step

Between 2004 and 2014, Greely played in the regional final nine times, but the Rangers fell short of that game the past two seasons.

Wednesday, Greely will be tested by the team many feels is the best in the region. In its quarterfinal, York crushed defending regional champion Yarmouth, 8-1, as five different Wildcats tickled the twine.

York beat Greely, 6-2, Feb. 15 in Falmouth.

The teams have plenty of playoff history, including some absolutely unforgettable games. Between 2001 and 2012, the Rangers and Wildcats split 10 meetings. The most recent was a 5-1 Greely victory in the 2012 regional final.

“Hopefully (York) used up their goals tonight,” Lawless said. “We have to stay focused. We have to work even harder in practice. We’re playing with a lot of confidence.”

“We’ll have our hands full,” Saffian said. “Last time we played York, we started slow. We battled back, but they pulled away. They’re a powerhouse team, but we’ll give it our best shot. We have to come out quick and slow down their high tempo offense.”

“This has been wonderful and I just want to keep the season going,” Mothes added. “I don’t feel like it deserves to end for these guys. I’m excited for them to come back here in front of a big crowd Wednesday. It’s fun to see the seniors, who put so much work in, get a crack at the regional championship.

“York is a strong hockey team. They’re lethal offensively. They have a lot of ways to generate offense. We’ll be up for it. We’ll show up. We’ll have to be sharp. We’ll have to take care of the puck. We’ll have to play our best defensive game of the year and we’ll need Josh to be sharp. We have to get the puck on net. We’ll have to find a way. We hope to play our best game of the season Wednesday.”

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

Greely senior Ryan Sullivan fires a shot.

Greely senior Josh Lawless saves a shot from Gardiner sophomore Tanner Hebert. Lawless made 28 saves in the victory.

Greely freshman Matt Kramlich carries the puck up the ice.

Greely senior Colby Robinson and Gardiner junior Sloan Berthiaume get their sticks caught together.

Greely sophomore Peter Lattanzi tries to knock a loose puck past Gardiner senior goalie Michael Poirier.

Greely freshman Jake MacDonald reacts after scoring the game’s first goal.

Greely senior Ryan Megathlin beams after scoring the Rangers’ second goal.

Greely freshman Matt Kramlich is congratulated by his teammates after giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead.

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