Greely's March Magic runs out...Rangers lose to Gorham in regional final
LEWISTON—The Greely boys' hockey team has made the month of March its playground in recent seasons and Wednesday evening, everything appeared to be lining up in the Rangers' favor once more when they battled new-to-the-big-stage Gorham in the Western Class B Final.
While the Rams dominated the first period, outshooting Greely, 16-4, the game was scoreless after 15 minutes and sure enough, the two-time defending state champion Rangers struck first 8 minutes, 8 seconds into the second period when senior Tommy Thompson scored on the power play.
Gorham, which lost twice by frustrating 2-1 margins to Greely in the regular season, wasn't buying into the script, however, and turned it on its ear.
Late in the second period, with the Rams on the brink of going into another intermission with a '0' on the scoreboard, senior Jared Wood turned the tide by finally solving Rangers junior goalie Kyle Kramlich, making the score, 1-1, after two.
Then, just 66 seconds into the third period, a blast from Gorham sophomore Carl Bear resulted in a second goal and a lead.
While Greely battled back and tied the game on a power play tally from junior Reid Howland, this time, the Rangers wouldn't be the team celebrating last.
That's because with 5:06 to play, Wood scored on a rebound and then, with just 19.6 seconds left, senior Shawn Sullivan added an empty net tally and the Rams went on to a 4-2 victory.
Gorham won its first regional championship, improved to 17-3, advanced to meet powerhouse Messalonskee (20-0) in Saturday's state final and ended Greely's season at 10-8-1.
"It's always exciting and an honor to be playing hockey at this time of year," said Rangers coach Barry Mothes. "This is an experience for the younger guys to build on. It's disappointing to lose, but hopefully the guys have good memories about what they accomplished."
Old and new
While Greely has been a regular in March (Wednesday was its 10th regional final in 11 seasons), Gorham has been a feel-good story this winter.
The Rams won their first four games, six of their first seven and wound up 15-3, only losing to Scarborough (3-1) and twice to Greely.
Gorham earned the No. 1 seed for the playoffs and got a bye into the semifinals where it edged No. 5 Kennebunk, 1-0, Friday night.
The Rangers, meanwhile, faced more adversity this year than they have in many seasons, but still wound up in a familiar location.
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.
The Rangers had little trouble with No. 6 Cape Elizabeth in the quarterfinals, winning, 5-2. Then, in the semifinals against No. 2 Camden Hills Friday, Greely got pushed, but held on to prevail, 3-2.
Greely won both regular season meetings: 2-1 at home Jan. 16 and 2-1 at Gorham nine days later.
The teams had no playoff history.
Wednesday, the Rangers had opportunities to beat the Rams again, but Gorham wouldn't be denied.
Just 44 seconds in, Greely threatened to take the lead, but junior Miles Shields' shot was denied by Rams senior goalie, captain Justin Broy.
Broy then denied senior Aidan Black and Black again, suggesting he'd come to play.
Kramlich also made his presence felt in the first period, making 16 saves.
Highlights included a stop on a knuckleball shot from Gorham junior Andrew Schmidt, a point blank save on junior Jordan Ward's shot, denying a rocket from Carl Bear after a turnover and several stops with the Rams on the power play.
Despite ample opportunities, Gorham went to the first intermission with the game still scoreless, seemingly giving the Rangers momentum.
"We weren't frustrated," Wood said. "We knew we had to keep pounding and getting pucks on Kyle. He played a great game."
The theme continued, as Kramlich robbed Rams senior Tucker Buteau and Wood in the first minute of the second period.
Greely went on the power play for the first time with 13:10 to go in the period, but Broy denied Rangers senior Brian Storey and Howland.
Then, with 7:56 left, another Ram was sent to the penalty box and this time, Greely capitalized.
With 6:52 remaining, Howland skated around the goal to the left wing and centered a pass to Thompson. Thompson, on one knee, managed to one-time a blast past Broy and the Rangers had the all important first goal.
Fifty-four seconds later, Greely almost doubled its lead, but senior captain Pete Hurley was denied by Broy point blank.
The Rangers then went on the power play again, but couldn't convert, despite a good look from Howland.
With 3:41 left in the second, Gorham's frustration continued, as senior captain Dylan Turner hit the post. Freshman Drew Eid shot wide, junior Michael Chapin had a bid saved by Kramlich and Wood shot wide.
Then, finally, with 1:54 remaining, Sullivan sent a seemingly harmless clear up the ice. Wood chased after the puck with a Greely defender and managed to win the battle. He then skated in from the left side, went one-one-one with Kramlich and fired a shot over the goalie's left shoulder to tie the score, 1-1.
Not surprisingly, the game hung in the balance virtually the whole third period, but to surprise of many who thought that pedigree would win out over inexperience, it would be the Rams who found a way to prevail.
After the Rangers had the first good chance of the third, a shot from senior Joe Saffian, which Broy saved, Gorham transitioned to offense and after Ward won a 50-50 puck at center ice, he set up Carl Bear, who launched a high rocket that beat Kramlich to make it 2-1 Rams with 13:54 to play.
"Their first two goals were just strong shots from a distance five on five," Mothes said. "We didn't score that way."
While the goal was the good news for Gorham, Bear was also sent to the penalty box for hooking and just 26 seconds later, Saffian set up Howland for a one-timer in front and the puck eluded Broy to make it 2-2. Thompson was also credited with an assist.
With the momentum back on its side, Greely pushed for the lead, but Broy robbed Howland with a kick save and stopped Hurley's bid with a pad.
Wood then had a couple looks, but Kramlich turned them aside.
With 9:26 to play, the Rangers went on the power play once more, but this time the Rams didn't budge, as Broy denied Black and Hurley.
Gorham, which hadn't had a power play since late in the first period, then got its opportunity with 5:59 left and after coach John Portwine called timeout, the Rams took advantage.
The winner came with 5:06 left. After Schmidt's shot was saved by Kramlich, the rebound sat free in front and Wood poked it home for a 3-2 lead.
"Coach told me and Tucker, if we won the faceoff to go straight to the corner," Wood said. "Once we got the puck, we got it to the point and we went to the net. Andrew took a shot from the point. I knew it hit Kyle. I wasn't quite sure where it went. I saw it drop. I just backhanded it past him."
"I said go low to high," Portwine said. "Get the puck down low to start, then get it up high, get a shot, get traffic up front and hope for a tip or deflection."
"The guys did a good job on the opening sequence of that power play, then the puck swung around, got to the net and we were outnumbered at the top of the crease and he just jammed it in," Mothes added. "We had a power play earlier when it was 2-2 and we were unable to take advantage. To their credit, they pounced on the chance they had. It was a frustrating penalty. Not the penalty we needed to take at that point of the game. That's been a challenge all year for us."
There was still a long way to go and sure enough, the defending champs wouldn't go quietly.
After incurring another penalty, the Rangers got a great look to tie when Howland broke free on a breakaway, but Broy made his biggest save of the night to preserve the slim advantage.
With 1:58 left, off a faceoff win, Saffian one-timed a shot on goal, but Broy didn't let it through.
Thirty-one seconds later, Mothes pulled Kramlich and Greely went all-out for the tying tally, but the Rangers never managed a shot.
Then, with 19.6 seconds left, Sullivan broke free with the puck and under pressure from a defender, backhanded it from just outside the Rangers' blue line into the net to clinch it.
Moments later, at 8:41 p.m., Greely's title reign was over and Gorham was able to celebrate its 4-2 triumph.
"It's amazing," Wood said. "I have no other words to say it. From day one, we knew we had a shot. We knew we had a team that could get this far. Knowing I scored the winner is just icing on the cake. It was probably our best game all season. This is great for the program. I hope from here we just have more and more success."
"We outshot them twice in the regular season and came out on the losing end both times, but we got a couple good bounces tonight," Portwine said. "I'm glad it was against a program like Greely. I knew at some point we'd have to go through them again. I'm glad it came down to the two of us. They're a great team. Well coached.
"It's been a long time coming. I'm just so happy for the guys. I can't say enough good stuff about these guys. We've gotten progressively better over the past four, five years. This group is just hockey players. That's all they do."
Gorham had a 31-28 edge in shots on goal. The Rams converted 1-of-4 power plays. Broy stopped 26 shots.
"We talked about the importance of getting second and third shots tonight on Broy," Mothes said. "But he made saves, to his credit."
Gorham did not play Messalonskee in the regular season. The Rams have never been in a state game and will be a decided underdog when the teams take the Colisee ice Saturday at 1 p.m., but there's no reason to bet against this proud and determined Gorham bunch now.
"This is a big stepping stone, but we still have one more to play," said Wood. "They have a very strong team. I've played with and against their entire first line. It's going to be a challenge and it's going to be fun."
"It's a high powered offense against a more defensive team, so we'll see what wins championships," Portwine said.
Not going away
Kramlich made 27 saves for Greely, which went 2-for-7 on the power play.
"I thought we played very well in the second and third," Mothes said. "We outshot them 24-15 after the first period. We had chances in the second and third. It was just a case of them burying one that gave them a cushion at the end. I thought for all the chances we had, we didn't get clean rebound opportunities. I think that could have gotten us over the hump. Our goals came off clean looks on the power play. We needed a couple dirty ones inside, some tips or bounces and it just didn't happen. I don't think we felt we had their number or it was their turn. I thought two good teams would go at it. I thought it had really good tempo for a high school hockey game."
Considering where Greely stood at the start of the new year, making it to March was quite a feat.
"I'm happy we had a home playoff game and that we got up here for two more games," Mothes said. "The seniors deserve a lot of credit. They weren't happy with how they were playing earlier in the year, but they elevated their game and made us a better team. I knew we had a lot of injuries. We played a lot of those early games with guys out of our lineup. We had forwards playing D. We played in a tough (out-of-state tournament) and I think that made us stronger. Once we got to the league schedule, we saw how we matched up. That gave us some belief that we were in the mix. That ultimately proved to be true."
Greely will graduate eight seniors, including several key contributors, but the Rangers, as always, are poised to reload.
"We're losing a lot of experience, but there's a lot of guys who played this year as freshmen and sophomores," Mothes said. "Hopefully they're hungry and are on the cusp of being impact players. They'll have the opportunity next year. We're looking forward to working with the younger guys. It'll be competitive, but I think we're starting from a good spot. We'll work hard and hopefully we'll do justice to the name on the jersey."