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Greely's the greatest; Rangers down Messalonskee to win Class B title

Sports

Greely's the greatest; Rangers down Messalonskee to win Class B title

LEWISTON—Three years after finally breaking through and winning its first state championship, the Greely boys' hockey team became Class B royalty Saturday afternoon, reaching the pinnacle again.

The Rangers drew first-time finalist Messalonskee in the state game at the Colisee and while it didn't come easily, a championship celebration ultimately ensued.

Greely seized control by scoring three goals in a stunning 62-second span of the first period, then held on for dear life after the Eagles cut the deficit to 3-1 in the second period and almost drew closer before another three-goal surge, this time late in the third period, provided some breathing room and brought the curtain down on a 6-2 victory, giving the Rangers their second state title.

Greely got two goals each from senior Pete Stauber and sophomore Ted Hart, one apiece from senior Ben Hackett and sophomore Pete Hurley and 14 saves from freshman goalie Kyle Kramlich as it finished the year 15-4-2 and brought Messalonskee's best ever season to an end at 18-4 in the process.

"It's very, very rewarding," said longtime Rangers coach Barry Mothes. "We had a challenging regular season. I'm proud of how we regrouped. We have talented guys, some of who never played high school hockey, and some hard working upperclassmen, who may have been JV players in their earlier years. We had some high profile players. It's not just a team of one or two guys. We finished first with 20 or 22 guys. On different nights, different people contributed. In the playoffs, the guys we needed to be big were big. You hope to get to these types of games. When you get there, you hope you play well. I'm really happy for all the players on the team for different reasons. They all brought something."

Potential fulfilled

Greely was viewed as a championship-caliber team when the season began and was solid throughout.

The Rangers opened by drubbing visiting Winslow, 10-1, pulled away to handle host Yarmouth, 7-2, played host perennial power Biddeford to a 3-3 tie and ended the 2011 portion of the schedule with a 7-0 home victory over Gardiner.

Greely then began a non-countable stretch of four straight games that weren't decided in regulation. The Rangers edged DeMatha Catholic of Maryland in a shootout, 3-2, downed Xavier of Connecticut in overtime, 4-3, and lost to Lockview, Nova Scotia in overtime, 5-4, in the Maine High School Hockey Invitational.

In the annual Dudley Cup showdown with rival and fellow Family Ice tenant Falmouth Jan. 2, the teams played through three overtimes before settling for a 1-1 tie.

When the regular schedule resumed, Greely downed visiting Camden Hills (4-2), host York (4-0) and visiting Cape Elizabeth (4-0), but the Rangers couldn't hold a two-goal third period lead and lost at home to Yarmouth on Jan. 21, 7-6.

Greely then lost twice in three days in Lewiston, falling to Lewiston in overtime (5-4) and St. Dom's (3-2). The Rangers got back on track with a8-1 win at Leavitt, edged visiting rival York, 3-2, beat visiting Gardiner, 6-2, then settled for a 1-1 tie at Camden Hills.

After beating visiting Leavitt, 6-4, Greely welcomed Messalonskee on Feb. 18 and triumphed, 3-1. The Rangers had a five-game unbeaten streak snapped with a 5-3 loss to Falmouth, but ended the regular season with a 4-2 victory at Cape Elizabeth.

Greely's 12-4-2 mark gave it the top seed in Western B for the fifth time in seven years.

The Rangers first drew No. 5 Yarmouth, the Class B team which gave them the most difficulty this year, in the semifinals and pulled away for a 5-2 victory. Wednesday, in yet another regional final showdown versus longtime foil York, Greely rolled to a surprisingly easy 5-1 victory to advance to the state final.

As for Messalonskee, it was 6-10-2 in 2010-11, but enjoyed the program's best season this winter.

The Eagles lost twice to preseason favorite and reigning regional champion Brewer and dropped the game at Greely, but won their other 15 outings to earn the No. 2 seed in Eastern B.

Messalonskee handled No. 7 John Bapst (6-1) and third-ranked Presque Isle (8-0) in the first two playoff rounds, then upset No. 1 Brewer, 5-2, in Wednesday's regional final to advance to its first ever state championship game.

The Rangers were taking part in their third final. Greely lost to Brewer in overtime in 2007 (4-3), then got over the hump two years later with a 5-1 victory over Presque Isle.

Saturday, the Rangers joined the school's girls' team by bringing home the hockey hardware.

Early on, Greely was flustered by Eagles senior goalie Nate DelGiudice, who lived up to billing as one of the state's finest netminders.

In the first minute of play, Stauber had successive shots turned aside by DelGiudice.

In the second minute, Hackett appeared to have a golden opportunity, but his bid right in front was saved and when the puck came back to Hackett with plenty of open net at which to shoot, he fired wide.

With 9:02 to play in the first period, junior Kenny Richards centered a pass that freshman Reid Howland tipped on net. DelGiudice was bailed out when the puck hit the post.

With 5:03 to play in the first, Rangers sophomore Zac Doucette was sent to the penalty box for crosschecking, but it was Greely that would score on special teams.

After Kramlich got his feet wet by saving bids from sophomore Kaleb Bernatchez and senior Travis St. Pierre, the Eagles turned the puck over, or more accurately, Stauber stole a pass and raced down the right side.

Stauber found another gear, left two defenders in his wake and skated in on DelGiudice. Stauber never hesitated, fired a low shot and it got past the goalie to put the Rangers ahead to stay, 1-0, at the 11:56 mark of the first.

"I wanted to beat the defender and go low on the goalie," Stauber said. "That's what we talked about all season. That's what I did. It was huge."

"We knew Nate DelGiudice is a very good goaltender," said Mothes. "Knowing that, it was nice to pop one early. We knew the goals wouldn't come easily today."

As it turned out, Greely was merely warming up.

With 2:14 left in the stanza, freshman Mitchel Donovan and Hart set up Hackett for a goal and it was 2-0.

Before that goal could even be announced, Hackett returned the favor and assisted on Hart's goal (a wrap-around) to make it 3-0 with 2:02 still to play in the first.

Three goals in 62 seconds had given the Rangers confidence and margin for error.

"To get those three and have a 3-0 lead was a good cushion, but we had to keep going," Stauber said.

"The announcers and media always talk about getting that first goal," Mothes added. "When I was a player, I wasn't so conscious of getting it, but as a coach, I know it gave us a nice lift."

Greely had a 10-4 edge in first period shots on goal and appeared poised to romp, but to its credit, Messalonskee would answer in the second and made things more than interesting.

First, the Rangers had a chance to open things up even further when they went on the power play, but despite good pressure, couldn't score a fourth goal.

The Eagles then turned up their attack and were rewarded with 7:07 left in the second when Doucette was sent to the penalty box for unsportsmanlike conduct.

At the 9:22 mark, Messalonskee got on the board when St. Pierre rocketed a shot from just inside the blue line that Kramlich couldn't stop. Junior Corey Foye and freshman Jacob Dexter were credited with assists.

The Eagles would have two golden opportunities to creep even closer.

With 4:08 left in the second, senior Sam Dexter, who scored 47 goals this winter, broke in free on Kramlich, but shot wide.

With 2:46 remaining, Greely almost took a 4-1 lead, but Howland's shot right in front was somehow denied by a diving DelGiudice, fooling most on hand who thought the puck had crossed the line.

With 1:03 to go in the second, Jacob Dexter had his chance, taking a pass from Sam Dexter and racing in on Kramlich. Dexter's shot clanged off the post and ricocheted out of harm's way and the Rangers were able to hold on to their tenuous 3-1 lead.

"I think I got a piece of it with my stick, but the post is my best friend," Kramlich said. "I felt a little pressure at the beginning to keep us in it and on the power plays, but other than that, I was confident I could shut them down and we could win it. My goalie coach helps me so much with the little things. It makes a world of difference."

A penalty to Doucette in the final minute of the second meant that the Rangers had to start the third period a man down, giving the Eagles another opportunity to get within a goal.

It never happened.

Messalonskee wasn't able to score on the power play, but kept pushing as Sam Dexter shot high and sophomore Chase Cunningham had a shot saved by Kramlich.

Greely then went on the power play, but bids from Hart and Howland were denied by DelGiudice.

After Richards was sent to the box for illegal contact to the head, St. Pierre and Cunningham shot wide on the power play and with 6:31 to play, St. Pierre's shot from the point was saved by Kramlich.

With 5:11 left, Dexter took a pass from Cunningham and sent a one-timer high.

"The penalties hurt us, but we kept going," said Stauber. "They got pressure because of the penalties. It hurt the momentum, but we did a good job turning it back our way."

Greely then rediscovered its scoring touch and was able to exhale.

With 3:28 to go, good pressure resulted in a rebound bouncing right to Hart wide open in front. Hart only had to tuck the puck into the net with DelGiudice out of position and the Rangers' lead was up to 4-1.

"The fourth goal was big," said Hart. "We were on our heels. That fourth goal gave us momentum to win the game. I was in the corner and the puck just bounced out from behind the net and I tucked it in."

"That gave us a lot of breathing room," said Kramlich. 

"Ted's been really playing outstanding the past three or so weeks," Mothes added. "He had a bit of an injury that kept him out of a few games. We were struggling. We were winning games, but not playing the way I thought we were capable of. Ever since he came back, the last three regular season games, and the three playoff games, he had two or three points a game. He's been a dangerous forward. He's a good faceoff guy. He reads the game well. He plays defense well, clears pucks. We needed him playing as well as he did."

Late in the contest, the Eagles had to pull DelGiudice for an extra attacker and it backfired as Doucette set up Stauber for an empty net goal, making it 5-1 with just 1:23 remaining.

Sam Dexter finally broke through with 1:05 left, finishing a pass from Cunningham to cut the deficit to 5-2, but that only delayed the inevitable.

With 14.3 seconds to go, again with DelGiudice watching from the bench, Hurley delivered the coup de grace, scoring into the empty net to make it 6-2.

At 2:47 p.m., the final horn sounded and the Rangers were champions again as the Colisee ice turned into a maroon-hued celebration.

"It was an amazing feeling," said Kramlich. "Probably the best feeling I've ever felt. Especially with our seniors winning. It's great. They taught me you can't be too high or too low. I was so mad at myself and upset after the Yarmouth (loss). I picked myself back up and now we have a state championship."

"I wanted to be here my senior year," said Stauber. "It's a good feeling. It feels good to have my last game be a state championship game and to win it. I felt there was good leadership. We had the ability. The young guys we have, the freshmen, the sophomores, they're very good players. Some of the best on the team. We couldn't have done it without those guys."

"It got really close," Hart said. "It definitely wasn't a 6-2 game. It was hard. It's never easy being the No. 1 seed. Luckily, we were able to win the game."

While the game might have been closer than the final score indicated, Greely had a commanding edge in shots on goal (35-16).

Hart's two goals helped close a circle. His older brothers, Kevin and Brian, were part of the 2009 championship team.

"Ever since they won in '09, I wanted to get this moment," Hart said. "Now that's it here, it's special. I remember them lifting the trophy at the end of the game and wanting to do it too. Now we all can do it."

Kramlich stopped 14 shots, never once looking like a freshman on the biggest stage.

"Kyle had a great playoff run," said Mothes. "He's a brave gamer. I think a lot of people were licking their chops, thinking, 'He's a freshman and he's not that big. Let us at him.' He started with a great attitude and got us to where we are. I give him credit for working with his goalkeeping coach (James Grasky). He's had a great focus the past seven days."

The Rangers went 0-for-3 on the power play.

Mothes said that this championship was different from the first and that it didn't come easily.

"We didn't spend a lot of time on micro-analyzing what we needed to do," Mothes said. "It was nice to be familiar with (Messalonskee), but they were missing Cunningham (in the first game). He's a good forward. It helped to get a sense of them. We've scouted them a little bit.

"We scored three in the first, then it looked like we might not get another goal in the game. It was tight for the second and most of the third. You want to have a lead, of course. You don't want to be down three goals and yet, it's how you manage it and how you play. We had chances to bump it out to 4-0. We took a penalty and they capitalized and they had energy. They had breakaways. In my ideal coach's world, we would have built on that lead and never looked back. We had to kill another penalty, but we buttoned it up in the third. We took more penalties tonight than I would have liked. We were lucky it didn't cost us more."

For Messalonskee, Dexter and St. Pierre had the goals, while DelGiudice disappointed no one with 29 saves.

"(DelGiudice) did a nice job refocusing and I thought he was superb in the second," said Mothes. "He robbed us and kept the game tight."

The Eagles scored once in four power play chances.

Ready for more

Greely will certainly miss senior captains Stauber, Tim Storey and Jordan Tarbox, along with Andrew Hackett, Ben Hackett, Griffen Demick and Dan Mynahan.

"Our captains Peter Stauber, Tim Shorey and Jordan Tarbox, they were the hardest working guys in practice," said Mothes. "They brought back the edge we had earlier in the season." 

With that said, several young standouts will be back in 2012-13, looking to lead the Rangers to another championship.

"We have a lot coming back, but we'll definitely miss our seniors," said Kramlich.

"Hopefully we'll win again," said Hart. "Going back-to-back would be special. We had a lot of help from freshmen and sophomores. Hopefully we can get back to this game next year."

"We've got a good group of returning players," Mothes added. "I hope everybody's back who's an underclassmen. We certainly have the nucleus for another strong year. We have a nice group of defensemen. We've got a lot of depth at forward. Kyle feels like he's got three seasons under his belt. He played all but two games. You can't reproduce this type of playoff experience in front of a two-thirds full house. It helped him grow a lot. He'll be a seasoned guy as a sophomore. We're excited."

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

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Messalonskee senior goalie Nate DelGiudice turns aside a shot from Greely freshman Mitchel Donovan as he makes one of his 29 saves Saturday.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Greely freshman Reid Howland slams a Messalonskee player into the boards.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Greely senior captain Pete Stauber gets a step on the defense. Stauber scored twice to help the Rangers to the championship.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

Greely senior Ben Hackett celebrates one of the Rangers' six goals.

Photo: Jason Veilleux / For The Forecaster

The newly crowned Class B champions gather with the trophy for a team photo.