Greely cruises past Camden Hills, back to state final
LEWISTON—All season, the Greely boys' hockey squad has been hearing that it's the team to beat.
Wednesday night, the Rangers reminded everyone what all the fuss is about, which an emphatic showing in the Western Class B Final at the Colisee.
Facing second-ranked Camden Hills, a team in its first regional final, top-seeded Greely, in its ninth final in 10 seasons, got the jump thanks to the individual brilliance of junior standout Ted Hart, who scored two first period goals. Sophomore Reid Howland added a third and the Rangers had a 3-0 lead.
Hart completed his hat trick with a second period goal and Howland attained hat trick status as well with two third period tallies and Greely went on to a 7-1 triumph.
The Rangers improved to 16-4, ended Camden Hills' season at 15-5 and advanced to play Eastern champion Messalonskee (18-2) in the Class B state final Saturday at 1 p.m., back at the Colisee.
"I'm really pleased with the focus these guys brought to the game," said Greely coach Barry Mothes. "From the minute we got to the locker room to pack up to the minute we got to the rink, we played like a committed, focused team that was here to win a playoff game."
Ever since capturing last year's Class B state title (6-2 over Messalonskee) and returning an abundance of talent from that squad, Greely has been viewed as a heavy favorite to repeat.
The Rangers didn't disappoint.
Greely beat visiting Gardiner (6-0), host York (3-2), visiting Cape Elizabeth (7-3) and host and two-time defending Class A champion Thornton Academy (7-5) to start the season. The Rangers then lost at Falmouth (3-1) on New Year's Night and at home to Lewiston (4-2), their lone losses on the ice coming to teams that will play for the Class A state championship Saturday.
Greely then pummeled visiting York (13-0) and rolled at Gardiner (6-1). Home wins over St. Dom's (4-1) and Yarmouth (5-2) were later forfeited as the Rangers learned they had inadvertently used a player who was ineligible to play. That player was ejected for fighting versus the Wildcats, sat out against the Tigers, but in a new rule implemented by the Maine Principals' Association this season, he was supposed to sit out a second game. He played versus the Saints and Clippers and therefore, Greely had to give up the victories.
The Rangers bounced back nicely, however, defeating host Biddeford (6-3), visiting Leavitt (11-2), host Messalonskee in a state game rematch Feb. 2 (8-4) at host Cape Elizabeth (4-3).
Greely squared off with then-unbeaten Camden Hills Feb. 12 and dominated from start to finish in a 9-1 victory. After blanking visiting Leavitt by two touchdowns, 14-0, the Rangers saw the Windjammers again, this time at their place, and had to rally late to tie before eking out a 4-3 overtime decision. Greely then closed the regular season with a 7-1 victory at Yarmouth to wind up 14-4 and garner the top spot for the Western B playoffs.
The Rangers had a bye into Friday's semifinal round and had no trouble with No. 5 Cape Elizabeth, 7-2.
Camden Hills has become one of the region's most competitive teams over the past couple years, but this was the Windjammers' best squad by far. Camden Hills won its first 12 contests, but a 9-1 loss at Greely was one of four losses in its final six outings (a second loss to the Rangers and setbacks to Maranacook and York followed). The Windjammers still wound up second for the playoffs and got a bye into the semifinals, where they handled No. 3 York, 8-4, to reach the regional final for the first time.
Prior to Wednesday, the new rivals had no playoff history.
As they did in the first regular season meeting, the Rangers (playing in their 13th regional final, please see sidebar) ended the competitive phase of the game quickly and set their sights on the big prize Saturday.
It took nearly seven minutes for Greely to break through and it was Hart in dynamic fashion doing the honors. Eluding four defenders, Hart got free for a shot, which he lifted past Camden Hills freshman goalie Jet Magri for a 1-0 lead at 6:50 of the first period. Sophomore Mitchel Donovan was credited with an assist.
At the 9:42 mark, Hart struck again, again leaving more defenders in his wake, and the lead was up to 2-0. Donovan and junior Brian Storey had the assists.
"I found a lot of room in the neutral zone, so I got some speed going and I created some space for myself and took a couple nice shots," Hart said. "Usually, there's a lot of emotion going into games, so we just wanted to settle down. Once we got those two goals, we didn't let off the gas. We kept going."
"I thought we had some chances, but shots were kind of even, then (Ted) struck," said Mothes. "He can do that. He's a tough guy to cover. It was good shooting and good moves to space by him."
With 1:10 left in the first, the Rangers got further breathing room when Howland finished (from Donovan) and it was 3-0 after one.
The Windjammers had a 9-7 shots advantage in the first 15 minutes, but it didn't do them any good.
Hart went for the hat trick early in the second period, but hit the post on one shot and just missed on another.
Hart then got his third goal with 7:02 left in the second when a Howland shot hit the post, but Hart rammed it home to make it 4-0. It was Hart's team-leading 34th goal of the year.
The game remained 4-0 into the third, where Greely quickly put it away.
Just 1:26 in, junior Joe Saffian, who had a stellar night, finished a pass from junior Pete Hurley (junior linemate Aidan Black also scored) and it was 5-0.
"Joe's really improved a lot," Hart said. "It helps that we have two or three lines who can score. If you focus on one line, there's always another line coming through and scoring. It's nice to have our depth in the playoffs."
Camden Hills finally broke through with 11:24 to play, when junior Grayson Szumilas (from senior captain Calvin Robbins) beat Rangers sophomore goalie Kyle Kramich, but Howland saved his best for last, scoring one-handed at 5:33 (assisted by Saffian) to push the lead to 6-1.
"Joe gave me a great pass," Howland said. "I tried to slide it over to Ted. I got lucky. It hit off the post and went in."
Howland got his hat trick at the 9:10 mark, burying a loose puck (Saffian again was credited with an assist), his 23rd goal of the season, and that pushed the lead to 7-1.
"Reid was really working hard, especially on the forecheck," said Hart. "It really paid off for him with some nice goals."
"Reid got better and better as the game went on and had a great third period," Mothes said. "Mitchel made some good breakout passes, some good plays in the offensive zone. That's what we need. I thought our other lines did well too. Joe Saffian, Aidan Black and Pete Hurley also had a huge game for us."
From there, Greely clamped down on defense and slammed the door on its fourth regional championship in seven seasons.
"We used our speed to our advantage, got wide and got pucks to the net," Howland said. "That was our tactic all game. We knew we couldn't take them lightly."
"To hold these guys to one goal is a real testament to total team defense," Mothes said. "Kyle was sharp (in goal). He saw the puck cleanly and made big saves. Our D did a great job of battling and playing 1-on-1 defense. It's the kind of effort you want in the playoffs. We had a good attention to the right things in all three zones. We have some very strong talent on this roster, but we also have a group of sophomores who were third and fourth line guys last year who have grown enormously. Despite losing a few guys to prep and juniors and whatever, we still have depth and we've played better team hockey."
The Rangers finished with a 30-19 shots advantage. Kramlich stopped 18 shots, while Magri made 23 saves for the Windjammers. Greely had the game's lone power play and didn't convert. The Rangers, who were nearly done in by penalties in their overtime win at Camden Hills during the regular season, didn't commit a single one Wednesday.
"It was a tight game last game and we took a lot of penalties," Hart said. "We wanted to show how we can play this time."
"We were a man down for 23 minutes (the first time), which affected the complexion," said Mothes, who also noted that Hart didn't play in that game and senior Kyle Megathlin was disqualified in the first period. "Still, we were 30 seconds from losing and had to win it in overtime. It was a wakeup call in that we couldn't take that many penalties and we had to be disciplined."
Greely has overcome every challenge so far and hasn't been fazed by wearing the bulls-eye.
"We didn't think about it much," Howland said. "We knew we have a great team and if we worked hard, we'd get good results."
"We've stressed all season that we just want to get better," said Hart. "We don't worry about what people are saying. That's worked for us this season."
Greely handled Messalonskee in last year's state final and again in early February, but doing so again, with the Class B title on the line Saturday, won't come easily and the Rangers know it, but they'll be up for the task.
Greely's coronation is 45 minutes away.
"It's exciting," said Howland. "It's going to be fun. We have to work hard, use our speed and skill and keep it rolling."
"Messalonskee's a good team," said Hart, who hopes to eclipse older brothers Brian and Kevin in titles won with the Rangers. "It's the fourth time we've played them in two years. The way we're playing right now, I feel good about our chances. I'd have bragging rights in the family if I could get two. We just have to do what we did tonight. We played well in all three zones, especially the defensive zone."
"Messalonskee is dangerous," Mothes added. "They're playing a nice team game. They share the puck smartly and move it smartly. We're expect a very, very tough game, a quick game. It's fun to play a really good, quick game. It's fun to have a couple more practices and come to the rink for one more game."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Greely regional finals
Greely 5 York 1
York 6 Greely 4
York 4 Greely 3
Greely 2 York 1
Cape Elizabeth 2 Greely 1 (OT)
Cape Elizabeth 4 Greely 2
Fryeburg Academy 5 Greely 4
Kennebunk 8 Greely 2
Falmouth 2 Greely 1
Yarmouth 5 Greely 2