Greely girls' hockey wins pivotal road game
YARMOUTH—As the championship month of February nears, the Greely girls' hockey team is starting to hit its stride.
And that's not good news for the rest of the state.
Saturday evening, the Rangers bounced back from Wednesday's loss at Scarborough and avenged a loss from earlier this season with an impressive showing against Yarmouth/Freeport at Travis Roy Arena.
After a scoreless first period, Greely finally got its offense going courtesy a secret weapon, freshman Victoria Lattanzi. After one of the team's accomplished veterans, senior Sarah Kurland made it 2-0, Lattanzi scored again and then, with just 42.9 seconds to go in the second period, Lattanzi scored on a breakaway to complete the natural hat trick and give the Rangers an insurmountable 4-0 lead. Yarmouth/Freeport finally got on the board in the third period, but a second Kurland goal slammed the door and Greely went on to a 5-1 victory.
The Rangers improved to 9-3, leapfrogged Yarmouth/Freeport (now 9-3-1) into the third spot in the East Region Heals and reminded everyone that any discussion of potential champions has to include them.
"Last time, we didn't show them our best game," said Kurland. "That was the most disappointing thing about that loss. They left not knowing what Greely hockey really looked like. We wanted to show them this time. We worked really hard to do that."
Yarmouth/Freeport announced it was for real as a contender back on Dec. 11, when it won at Greely, 3-2, as part of an 8-0 start.
Yarmouth/Freeport began the year by handling Brunswick (7-2), Mt. Ararat (7-1), Capeflete (5-1) and Gorham/Bonny Eagle (5-1). After an 11-0 home win over Portland/Deering, Yarmouth/Freeport won at Greely, before downing host Winslow (4-0) and visiting Capeflete (3-1). After falling from the unbeaten ranks with a 4-0 loss at Leavitt/Edward Little, Yarmouth/Freeport played host Lewiston to a 1-1 tie before losing at home to Lewiston, 5-0. Yarmouth/Freeport got back on track Wednesday with a 2-1 win at Mt. Ararat.
Greely has been the state's gold standard for a couple years, but this year, things haven't come as easily for the Rangers. After holding on for a 2-1 win at Leavitt/Edward Little in the opener and handling visiting Brunswick (8-0) and host Biddeford (6-1), Greely was upset at home by Yarmouth/Freeport. Wins at York (4-1), at home over Winslow (7-1) and at home over Falmouth in the Dudley Cup (2-1, in overtime) followed before the Rangers lost at Lewiston (6-1). They got back on track by downing visiting York (5-2) and host Mt. Ararat (9-0), but Wednesday night, lost a state game rematch, 3-0, at Scarborough.
Heading into Saturday's meeting, since the Maine Principals' Association began sanctioning girls' hockey in 2009-10, Greely won eight of nine meetings, with December's result being the outlier. The Rangers' eight victories came by a composite margin of 58-6.
Saturday, Greely restored its accustomed order in the series.
Yarmouth/Freeport went on the power play just 57 seconds in, but couldn't convert.
The Rangers had some good chances in the first period, but a shot from freshman Ellie Schad deflected off the facemask of Yarmouth/Freeport junior goalie Hannah Williams, a rush by sophomore standout Danita Storey was broken up by Yarmouth/Freeport sophomore Lilly Watson, a shot by Storey was saved by Williams and a rebound bid was also saved and late in the period, Schad had another shot saved.
Early in the second period, Yarmouth/Freeport almost went on top when senior standout Ariel Potter sent a backhand shot on net, but Greely freshman goalie Nica Todd made the save.
Then, after a Lattanzi shot was blocked by Yarmouth/Freeport senior Meredith McLoon and a rebound bid from sophomore Erin Molloy went wide, Williams made a save on a Schad shot, but eventually, the Rangers broke through.
The first goal came with 11:39 to play in the second, as Lattanzi tipped home a Molloy shot.
Yarmouth/Freeport almost tied the game three minutes later, as junior Michelle Robichaud sent a perfect feed to senior standout Emily Johnson in front, but Johnson couldn't beat Todd, who made her best save of the night to preserve the lead.
"That save was big," said Greely coach Nate Guerin. "There were a couple others where you wouldn't have been surprised to see the puck in the back of the net and she made the stop. She was a huge help."
"We did have a couple bang-bang plays, but we didn't have any rebounds," lamented Yarmouth/Freeport coach Jeff Haley.
After Molloy made a nice defensive play, breaking up a feed from Yarmouth/Freeport freshman Katie Clemmer, the Rangers doubled their lead.
It would be Kurland doing the honors, beating Williams, and Greely had a 2-0 advantage and a little breathing room.
"Sarah leads by example, on and off the ice," Guerin said. "She does a great job."
After Yarmouth/Freeport failed to convert on a power play and Clemmer sent a shot just wide, Lattanzi struck again, with junior Maura Perry and Storey getting assists, pushing the lead to 3-0.
That looked to be the way the second period would end, but with 42.9 seconds to go, Lattanzi got free, went one-on-one with Williams and finished and Greely was firmly in control, 4-0.
"I thought (Williams) was going to take it away from me," Lattanzi said. "It was kind of a blind shot that just went in. I was surprised (to score three goals). My teammates gave me a lot of good set-ups. It's a challenge (being a freshman on varsity), but the coaches explain things really well and the seniors are good leaders."
"(Vicotria's) got the skills," Guerin said. "We know what she's capable of."
The Rangers knew they couldn't let up with 15 minutes still to play.
"The coaches were proud of how hard we were working and told us to keep working in the third period," Kurland said. "They told us to keep rolling. I think we did a good job."
The hosts finally broke through early in the third period.
On the power play, Clemmer finished a Potter feed to give Yarmouth/Freeport a little life, but it only had one more good look.
With 2:41 remaining, Greely got caught on a shift change and Yarmouth/Freeport had an easy look at the goal, but sophomore Lilly Watson's bid was denied by Todd.
Then, with 58.1 seconds to play, Kurland skated in alone and finished to bring the curtain down on the 5-1 victory.
"My teammates worked hard to break it out," Kurland said. "I got the lucky pass and took it down. It was exciting. We lost a lot of really good seniors, but we're showing we still have a lot of talent and a lot of heart even though we're a really young team. All the girls are learning the system and bring so much to the team."
"It was a good night," Guerin said. "What we needed to see, for sure. Nothing fancy. We didn't really know what to expect. We knew we just wanted to get back to basics and we were able to get momentum rolling."
Yarmouth/Freeport could only tip its cap.
"We knew (Greely would) be a tough opponent," Haley said. "They always come out firing. They needed this game. They carried two periods and we pretty much evened the third period, but it was too little, too late. They moved the puck better and it stretched the ice for them. We tried to take away the neutral zone, but they just had too many weapons. When you try to play catch up hockey, it's tough against that team."
Yarmouth/Freeport will try to bounce back Monday when it goes to Brunswick. After playing at Portland/Deering Thursday and hosting Winslow Saturday, Yarmouth/Freeport closes the regular season with home games against Leavitt/Edward Little and Cheverus.
A home playoff game is still a tangible goal, but this group needs to get back on track and quickly.
"Ever since Christmas break, we seem to have lost a little steam," Haley said. "We're still trying to figure it out. It's a long season for a young team, but we'll bounce back. We need to find out who we are and get back to our game. We need to make the most of the three games we have this week. We'll fight."
Greely hopes to peak as the season comes to an end and could still move up the ladder considering it has several tough teams remaining on the schedule. The Rangers host Leavitt/EL Monday and welcome Mt. Ararat Saturday. Home games against Scarborough and Lewiston close the season. Greely still has games to make up against Brunswick and Winslow as well.
The Rangers know a three-peat won't come easily, but they figure to be in the hunt deep into February.
"We need to win the first and second period and follow that up in the third period," Lattanzi said. "Tonight, we didn't do that as well."
"We have to keep working our systems," Kurland said. "We have to get the puck out of the zone and work on our forecheck. People aren't expecting much for us this year. We're going out to prove we're a team to contend with. We're not starting on a pedestal. Everyone likes an underdog."
"We want to sese a more consistent effort on a regular basis," Guerin added. "We're getting closer. The improvement will have to continue. We're not the most skilled team in the state this year. Probably not even in the East. It's a different kind of feel for us, but it's exciting."