By Michael Hoffer
LEWISTON — All season, Cape Elizabeth hockey coach Jason Tremblay felt his team was nipping at the heels of preseason favorite Greely.
In the Western Class B Final Wednesday night at the Colisee, the Capers bit into a huge hunk of flesh when they grabbed a 3-1 second period lead, but they couldn’t hold on and finish the Rangers off.
After hitting the post twice with a chance to take a three-goal lead, Cape Elizabeth watched Greely erupt for five unanswered tallies to win 6-3, ending its season at 13-7.
“We jumped out 3-1 and it could have been 5-1 or 6-1,” Tremblay lamented. “Even 4-1 would have been huge. I don’t know if they would have been able to come back from that. My hat’s off to Greely. They came back. They used their depth. It was tough to match up. It was a great effort by both sides. It always is.”
Living up to billing
The Capers went 12-6 in the regular season and were competitive throughout against the best that Class A and Class B had to offer. Cape Elizabeth lost 5-4 (in overtime) at home to Greely Jan. 5 and fell 5-1 at the Rangers on Feb. 7. The Capers did down Greely 3-1 Feb. 2 in the final of the non-countable Fix Cup. Cape Elizabeth fought off an upset bid from Leavitt in a 4-1 semifinal round win Saturday.
The teams had met five prior times in the playoffs, including each of the past four seasons. In 2005 (4-2) and 2006 (2-1, in overtime), the Capers won in the regional final. The past two years, Greely was victorious in the semifinals (4-0 in 2007, 6-1 last winter). The only other meeting came way back in the 1986 semifinals (a 10-2 Cape Elizabeth triumph).
Wednesday, the Capers not only fought off an early Greely surge, but got the jump on the scoreboard.
Just 1 minute, 10 seconds in, Cape Elizabeth had to kill a penalty and did so with junior goalie Phil Jordan facing just one shot.
The Capers took a 1-0 lead with 8:56 to go in the period thanks to a gorgeous pass from senior captain Zach Breed. Breed slid a pass under a defender’s stick and hit senior captain Sean Eubanks in stride at the Greely blue line. Eubanks then strolled in and easily beat Rangers’ sophomore goalie Matt Labbe for a 1-0 lead.
The advantage lasted all of 96 minutes as Greely answered on a goal from senior Jesse Shavel who backhanded a rebound of his initial shot past Jordan to make it 1-1.
The Capers earned their first power play opportunity 1 minute, 49 seconds into the second. After junior Sam St. Germain just missed a go-ahead goal when his shot hit the side netting and Jordan came up huge at the other end, denying junior Ian Gray with a kick save, Cape Elizabeth took a 2-1 lead when a Eubanks shot was stopped and hung in the air long enough for St. Germain to swoop in and pound it home to put his team on top.
With 9:35 left in the period, the Capers went on the power play again and this time, it only took 16 seconds to capitalize. Again it was Eubanks setting the table, feeding St. Germain right in front and he banged it home to make it 3-1.
After Greely had an apparent goal waved off, Cape Elizabeth twice had golden opportunities to stretch its lead, but shots from Eubanks and St. Germain hit iron and it remained a two-goal contest.
“I was just happy they didn’t go in,” Labbe said. “I was just lucky, I guess. Three goals down would have been bad.”
With 6:24 to go, just eight seconds after freshman Nicholas Breed was denied point blank by Labbe, the Rangers transitioned and made it 3-2 when standout freshman Brian Hart took a long pass from Gray and beat Jordan.
The Rangers pulled even with 2 minutes to go. Hoffman broke free and closed in on Jordan, but was stripped from behind. Gray was there to collect the loose puck and finish, however, and it was a 3-3 game heading to third.
Greely would dominate the final period.
The Rangers took their first lead of the game, 4-3, when Hart unleashed a rocket from just inside the blue line with 13:25 left. Jordan never had a chance and suddenly Cape Elizabeth had to play from behind for the first time.
“I was just looking to get a shot off and it went in,” Hart said. “We definitely turned up the intensity once we went ahead.”
Nineteen seconds later, the Capers went back on the power play, but this time couldn’t counter as Labbe made the save of the night on a Eubanks shot on the doorstep and he later snared senior Mike Holden’s tough-angle bid.
With 7:41 to play, the Capers found themselves on the ropes when Shavel took a pass from senior Kyle Selig, made three gorgeous moves around the defense, then scored to make it 5-3.
Cape Elizabeth had a chance to answer with 6:11 remaining, but Holden’s shot was kicked aside. After a timeout with 2:56 to play, the Capers made one final push. With 1:24 to play, Eubanks got free in close, but a defender broke up the play at the final moment. Then, with 1:05 to go, the Rangers brought the curtain down when Gray scored an empty net goal.
“I anticipated a battle,” said Greely coach Barry Mothes. “Cape’s a hard working team with a lot of pride and success. We’re big rivals.”
“I’m proud of the kids,” Tremblay said. “They worked hard and left everything they had on the ice. (The Rangers) have a lot of experience. I think it helped them. We were nervous in the first. I think we dominated in the second, but coming out 3-3 was a real downer for us. We tried to generate some offense once we went behind. We had to take chances.
“We have a lot to be proud of. We talked about that in the locker room. We beat Waterville, Falmouth, top teams in Class A.”
The Capers return the lion’s share of their roster next winter and should make another serious run at the crown in 2009-2010.
“We only have four seniors, everyone else returns,” Tremblay said. “We look forward to building off this. Hopefully we can continue next year where we left off.”
Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com