Greely handles Cape, three-peat hopes still alive
FALMOUTH—If it's almost March, it's time for the Greely boys' hockey team to hit its stride.
And the Rangers are right on schedule.
Tuesday evening, in its playoff opener at Family Ice Center, Greely, the third-ranked team in the Western Class B playoff field, figured to get a down-to-the-wire test from No. 6 Cape Elizabeth, but instead, the Rangers led almost the whole way and produced a impressive victory.
It took less than four minutes for Greely to go ahead for good, when senior captain Joe Saffian scored. Senior Tommy Thompson added a second goal with 9:44 to go in the first period and the Capers made a goalie change, but the Rangers didn't relent.
After Cape Elizabeth got on the board with 6:23 left in the first, when senior Jack Tierney scored on a two-man power play, Greely earned a huge dose of momentum when freshman Andrew Ray scored with just 15.1 seconds to go in the period.
The Rangers then started the second on the power play and took a 4-1 lead on a tally from junior Reid Howland, but the Capers drew back within two on a goal from junior Ben Shea.
Cape Elizabeth had its chances to creep even closer, but couldn't finish and with 6:55 remaining in the game, sophomore Nathan Gervais scored to provide breathing room and Greely went on to a 5-2 victory.
The Rangers improved to 9-7-3, ended the Capers' season at 7-11-1 and advanced to meet second-ranked Camden Hills in the semifinals Friday evening at the Colisee in Lewiston.
"I think we played really well," said Howland. "We worked hard and gave it everything. We've had quick starts this year and then had trouble keeping the lead, but we were able to keep the lead and push it to the end."
Wild, wild West
Entering the tournament, any of six teams could rightfully claim that they had a great chance to come out of the region and play for a state title.
The Cape Elizabeth-Greely game was arguably the most compelling of the quarterfinals.
The Rangers have been Class B's gold standard for the past several seasons, going back-to-back last winter to make it three championships in four years, but the 2013-14 campaign has been a struggle.
After opening with a 5-1 loss at Kennebunk, Greely tied visiting Cape Elizabeth (4-4) and won at Maranacook (4-2). Losses at home to Falmouth (4-3, in overtime) and at Lewiston (3-0) were followed by a 3-3 tie at St. Dom's and two more losses: 5-4 at Yarmouth at 7-3 against visiting Thornton Academy to produce a 1-5-2 start. The Rangers then put it together with a seven-game unbeaten streak. First, Greely downed visiting Gorham (2-1), host Leavitt (4-1) and host Gorham (2-1). After tying visiting Biddeford, 4-4, the Rangers defeated host Camden Hills (7-2), visiting Kennebunk (2-0) and visiting York (5-3). Greely lost at home to Yarmouth (5-2) and Messalonskee in a state game rematch (4-1), but closed with a 6-3 home win over Gardiner to go 8-7-3 and earn the No. 3 seed.
Cape Elizabeth, meanwhile, looked terrific one night and often struggled the next during its regular season.
The Capers opened with a 10-2 loss at Falmouth and a 3-2 setback at York, before tying host Greely (4-4). Another frustrating loss followed, 3-2, at Cheverus, then Cape Elizabeth fell, in overtime to visiting Brunswick (3-2) and again in OT to visiting Camden Hills (7-6) to drop to 0-5-1. A 3-0 home victory over Noble/Wells got the Capers off the schneid. After a 3-0 loss at Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth downed visiting Portland/Deering (3-2). After another one-goal loss, 3-2, to visiting Kennebunk and a 4-2 setback at Gorham, the Capers won 4-1 games at Gardiner and at home over Kennebunk. After losing overtime again, 3-2, to visiting Leavitt, Cape Elizabeth downed visiting York (12-5), then held off Yarmouth in a 5-4 thriller. After losing, 5-2, to visiting Gorham, the Capers closed with a 4-3 victory at Maranacook/Winthrop to go 7-10-1 and earn the No. 6 seed.
The Capers and Rangers (who tied in the lone regular season meeting way back on Dec. 14) have seen a lot of each other in recent postseasons, meeting six of the past nine years and seven times overall, dating to 1986 (please see sidebar, below).
Greely entered holding a 4-3 all-time lead in the postseason, including last year's 7-2 triumph in the semifinals.
This time around, in the first-ever quarterfinal round showdown between the rivals, the Rangers left no doubt that they're primed for another title run.
After some close calls, Greely got the jump when Saffian sent a long blast past Cape Elizabeth senior goalie Kevin Hare and just under the crossbar for a quick 1-0 lead with 11:20 to play in the opening period.
With 9:44 to go, Thompson managed to get the puck past Hare from a difficult angle (Saffian was credited for the assist).
Cape Elizabeth coach Matt Buotte then pulled the trigger and replaced Hare with sophomore Grant Rusk.
"That's probably the hardest thing I've ever done," Buotte said. "Kevin's played great for us, but tonight just wasn't his tonight. If your left wing doesn't have a good night, it's alright because there's 18 other guys. If your goalie has a rough night, it's tough. He's been the best teammate anyone could ask for."
The Capers then took advantage of Greely penalties, going two-men up, and with 6:23 left in the first period, a blast from Shea was tipped home by Tierney and the deficit was cut in half.
Just when it looked like Cape Elizabeth would have the momentum going into the break, the Rangers stretched their lead to 3-1 with 15.1 seconds showing.
Senior captain Aidan Black did the dirty work, winning a contested puck, then feeding it to Ray, who beat Rusk and Greely had a two-goal advantage, 3-1.
"That was a huge goal," Ray said. "That put the energy on our side more. The puck came out after Aidan was scrapping. I saw it, shot and hoped for the best."
"It seemed really important at the time," said longtime Rangers coach Barry Mothes. "I thought we played well enough to have a two-goal lead."
Not surprisingly, Cape Elizabeth didn't see it the same way.
"That was a pretty big sucker-punch," Buotte said. "We were 15 seconds from getting into the locker room down 2-1. If you told me it would be down 2-1, I'd feel pretty good about that. We started taking it to them a little bit, but that was a backbreaker."
Making matters worse for the Capers, they were called for a penalty just before the end of the first period and Greely started the second on the power play.
And took advantage.
With 13:47 left in the second, Howland beat Rusk (freshman Galen Arnold and Thompson were credited for assists) and the Rangers seemed firmly in control, up, 4-1.
"I got the pass and I saw the lane and I tried to put a shot on net," Howland said. "I didn't even see it go in, but it worked out."
After Rusk kept the score 4-1 by robbing Howland and Thompson, the Capers pulled within 4-2 when Shea buried a loose puck in front past Greely junior goalie Kyle Kramlich.
With 4:50 left in the period, Cape Elizabeth went on the power play and had a chance to draw closer, but the Capers' best chance went just wide off the stick of sophomore Matt Riggle, who tipped a shot from junior Dennis Frank.
As time wound down, Cape Elizabeth freshman Peyton Weatherbie almost got to a loose puck in front, but couldn't finish and the Rangers retained their 4-2 advantage with 15 minutes to go. Senior Eli Breed and sophomore Tim Corsello were credited with assists.
In the third period, Greely was content to eschew offense for making sure the Capers didn't get good chances.
Cape Elizabeth's closest calls came with 10:13 left, when Riggle had a shot saved by Kramlich, 42 seconds later, when Shea shot wide, with 8:36 to go, when dangerous junior Curtis Guimond's rush was broken up and with 7:16 remaining, when a bid from freshman Ben Edkedahl was saved and the rebound out to Shea was turned aside as well.
With 6:55 left, Greely got some breathing room, as a blast from junior Miles Shields was tipped into the net by Gervais, and the Rangers were never threatened from there as they went on to the 5-2 victory.
"It was very exciting," Ray said. "We knew we had to get out to a quick lead. We did that and we had to build off that energy and it worked out well. They started coming back, but I knew if we kept doing what we were doing, we'd keep the lead. We've started to play like we have to."
"I thought Cape was a dangerous team all year," Mothes said. "We played them early, then never played them again. They're a good young team. They lost a lot of close games, but kept battling. I thought they were as good a team as any. They battled hard tonight. I never felt comfortable.
"I thought our guys played a very good first period. In the second, we started to get a little sloppy. We tightened up in ways that were important in the third. We still have work to do to take care of the puck and make crucial plays. We dodged a few bullets tonight when they got up-ice on us. Our effort and energy were important tonight. We had good focus. It's not so much Xs and Os right now. It's playing smarter, staying out of the box, winning one-on-one battles. For this team, that's what we need. We have to outwork the other team. I think we did that tonight."
Five different players tickled the twine for Greely.
"The goals we scored were nice," Mothes said. "Joe and Reid haven't scored a ton of goals lately, so it was nice to see those guys get on the board. We haven't scored enough goals for my liking. Even tonight, we had five, but we could have had more and didn't bury them."
Kramlich made 20 saves.
A positive step forward
Cape Elizabeth has scored its share of dramatic goals this season, but Tuesday, the Capers just couldn't get within one in the third period to really make things interesting.
"(Greely) stifled us," said Buotte. "We couldn't generate anything. They got some good goals and we couldn't manage to get the puck over the line."
Rusk made 25 saves in defeat before giving way to Hare in the waning seconds, so the senior could bask in one final ovation.
"Grant stepped in and played well," said Buotte. "The future's bright on that end."
While Cape Elizabeth's season came to a close, the Capers did have their moments this winter and appear primed to become one of the league's elite squads going forward.
"Until there was 30 seconds left, we believed we were in the game," Buotte said. "That's the character of our kids. We've had a tough year. We've lost close games. We lost five of our first six. The guys have fought through it. Every single game we got better. I couldn't be more proud. We could have given up after starting 0-5-1, but to the guys' credit, they finished the year strong. We didn't get to the Colisee, but we made a step forward. We know if we want to get to where we want to be, we have to beat Greely. They're the kings and we have to beat them to get the crown.
"A lot of guys got good experience this year. We're a young team. It's very exciting. As the younger guys grow and have success, the guys leaving this year have a lot to do with that. They were great teammates and mentors. They've taken the freshmen under their wing. It's been great. They'll be missed."
Camden Hills (14-4-1) after eliminating No. 7 Maranacook/Winthrop (8-3) in its quarterfinal Tuesday is next up for the Rangers.
Greely handled the host Windjammers, 7-2, on Jan. 29. The teams played once before in the playoffs, in last year's regional final, where the Rangers romped, 7-1.
Greely knows Friday won't be easy, but the Rangers believe their season will continue.
"We have to go in like we haven't beaten them before," Ray said. "We have to play hard, play smart and get a few goals."
"Everybody's always hunting for us in the playoffs, but we have confidence going in," Howland said. "We know what we're capable of. We're going to give it everything we've got. We love this team. There's a lot of pride. We have to prepare and come out and give everything we've got. I think we'll keep pushing."
"(Camden's) a good hockey team," Mothes said. "They have two very dangerous forwards. We played a solid road game (the first time we played them) with great focus. We did everything well. I don't expect us to show up and have that happen. They're hungry. We expect a battle. We have to take care of the puck and play the game in their end as much as we can. I think we still have better hockey ahead of us and Friday would be a good time to play it. We're very excited to go back to Lewiston. It will be fun to be part of a great night of hockey."