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YARMOUTH—Under normal circumstances, it would be pretty easy to overlook a playoff opponent that won only three games all season, but Yarmouth’s boys’ hockey team knew that its foe in Tuesday evening’s Western Class B quarterfinal, the tradition-rich Greely Rangers, would be no pushover.
And they weren’t.
But the Clippers, who surged in the second half of the season, weren’t about to be upset.
It took second-ranked Yarmouth all 45 minutes to escape the seventh-ranked Rangers at Travis Roy Arena, but the Clippers made the plays when they had to and kept their championship dreams alive.
Yarmouth dictated play in the first period, enjoying a 13-4 shots advantage, but Greely, behind its pedigreed senior goalie, Kyle Kramlich, stayed right in it.
The Clippers did take a 1-0 lead in the final minute, when junior Patrick Grant scored, but they weren’t able to put the Rangers away early.
When senior Sam Rouda scored just over five minutes into the second period, Yarmouth appeared in good shape, but late in the period, Greely cut its deficit in half courtesy a power play goal from sophomore Jack Saffian.
Entering the third period, both teams knew the next goal would be critical and when the hosts got it, on a power play blast from junior Walter Conrad, they appeared in good shape, but the proud Rangers refused to go quietly, again pulling within one on the power play when junior Nick Caputo struck with 9:22 to go.
Greely had a power play chance to tie when the Clippers were guilty of having too many men on the ice with 4:12 to play, but this time, Yarmouth’s defense came up big and that set the stage for freshman Cooper May to ice it with an empty net goal with 37.8 seconds remaining and the Clippers held on for a 4-2 victory.
Yarmouth produced four different goal scorers as it improved to 11-7-1, ended Greely’s season at 3-15-1 and advanced to battle No. 6 Gorham (12-5-2) in the Western B semifinals Friday evening at the Colisee in Lewiston.
“It’s not a typical 2-7 matchup,” said Clippers coach David St. Pierre. “We’ve had some memorable battles over the years (with Greely) and I fully expected this to be a tight game all the way through.”
Nothing came easily for either squad this season.
Yarmouth began with five straight losses and was 1-6 at one juncture, but soared to the finish line by going 9-1-1 to wind up second in Western B.
“We started 0-5, but we’re on a good streak right now,” Grant said. “We’ve come so far. Once the new year came around, we adopted a new mentality as a team to turn the season around and we did.”
“We were able to commit to playing the way we needed to play as a team,” Conrad said. “We committed to tough, gritty hockey and that turned it around. We’ve been able to grind out wins.”
“We’ve had such an interesting season,” added St. Pierre. “We had a really tough schedule and we learned a lot about ourselves really quick. We learned where we needed to focus on getting better. The message from the first month of the season was to stay committed and focused and keep getting better. To the kids’ credit, they bought in. The 10 seniors rallied and one win led to another win. The guys never got down.”
Greely won just three times (the fewest victories in program history) and tied another game, but the Rangers’ 2-1 victory over Maranacook/Winthrop in the finale gave them the seventh and final playoff spot.
The teams met twice in the regular season, with Yarmouth prevailing, 5-3, Jan. 3 in Cumberland and again at home, 4-0, Feb. 11.
Entering Tuesday’s tilt, the teams had met nine previous times in the playoffs (dating to 1987, see sidebar) with the Clippers winning the first five and the Rangers taking the last four, including a 5-2 win in the most recent encounter, the 2012 semifinals.
This time around, Yarmouth managed to beat Greely in the postseason for the first time since 1993, but it wasn’t easy.
Kramlich stood tall early to keep the game scoreless.
First, he denied Grant on a rush. Kramlich then stopped a shot by Clippers senior captain Connor Lainey. After Yarmouth senior goalie Nick Allen stopped the Rangers’ first shot, from sophomore Andrew Ray, Kramlich denied Grant on a rush. Allen then saved a backhanded bid by Saffian after a turnover and denied Ray.
Then, with 57.3 seconds left in the first, Grant got the puck and beat the defense to go one-on-one with Kramlich and this time, he finished for a 1-0 lead.
“I was able to collect a pass from the D on the boards, take it in the slot and throw it in near side,” Grant said.
“Patrick’s a terrific player,” said St. Pierre. “He may not have led the league in scoring, but I’d take 10 of him on my team any day. He’s just a terrific forward. He’s got more heart than kids three times his size.”
Yarmouth enjoyed a 13-4 shots advantage in the first 15 minutes.
During the first intermission, St. Pierre instructed his charges to keep on keeping on.
“I thought we did a good job limiting their scoring chances and keeping them away from our net, so I just told our guys to keep going hard, get pucks deep and get pucks in front against Kyle,” St. Pierre said.
The Clippers kept the pressure on in the second period, as Grant fired a wrister, Rouda launched a blast and Conrad tried to finish a rebound, but Kramlich stood tall each time.
Then, with 9:53 left in the second, Rouda was in the right place at the right time as the puck bounced off a Greely defender right to him as he was closing in on goal and he beat the stunned Kramlich to make it 2-0.
That goal awakened the Rangers, who had just four shots to that point.
Sophomore Dylan Fried set up sophomore Ryan Megathlin for a great look right in front, but Allen made the save. Ray then had a golden opportunity after a turnover, but his bid was also denied by Allen.
With 1:38 to go in the second, Greely went on the power play and just 19 seconds later, Saffian banged home a rebound and just like that, the Rangers, despite being outshot by a 3-1 margin (24-8) over the first two periods, only trailed by a goal heading for the third.
“We went in and tried to keep it positive because I thought we were playing well,” St. Pierre said. “I knew they weren’t going to lie down. I knew the third period would be a battle. We tried to keep it loose and focus on the things we wanted to do.”
After a Megathlin rush early in the third was broken up by Yarmouth sophomore defenseman Anders Newberg, Kramlich was hurt after being hit by Clippers sophomore Bennett Travers after the play. It turned out to be a penalty on Greely junior Colby Williams, however, for pushing the aforementioned Clipper into Kramlich, who stayed in the game after collecting himself.
Yarmouth would pounce on the opportunity, taking a 3-1 lead with 11:59 to go when Conrad got the puck up top, hesitated for a moment, then shot through traffic and beat Kramlich for a 3-1 advantage.
“I found a little time, saw an open lane and luckily Kyle was screened,” Conrad said. “It bounced into the net.”
“You always look to your leaders to step up in tight games and Walt and Pat have been doing it day after day, week after week,” said St. Pierre. “They’ve led the charge for us.”
The Clippers weren’t home free yet, however.
Seconds after Williams sent a shot just wide of an open net, the Rangers went back on the power play and with 9:22 to go, Caputo took a pass from sophomore Ryan Sullivan and one-timed a blast past Allen to make it 3-2.
From there, Yarmouth had to hold on.
First, Newberg broke up a Ray rush.
Then, after Kramlich kept the deficit at 3-2 by robbing May, the Clippers took a penalty for too many men on the ice and Greely suddenly had a great chance to draw even.
But Yarmouth’s defense wouldn’t allow it.
The Rangers only managed two shots, a bid from Ray that hit the outside of the cage and a blast by junior Nathan Gervais which went wide.
“If they scored on the first two (power plays), there was no way we were going to let them score on the third,” Conrad said. “Penalty kill has been a strength all season. We just got the puck out.”
After the penalty expired, Williams rushed in, but Allen made a save on his backhanded bid.
Inside of the final minute, Greely pulled Kramlich for an extra skater, but couldn’t generate an offensive chance and Grant wound up racing the other way with the puck. As a defender closed in, Grant fed the puck across to May, who calmly tucked it home with 37.8 seconds to go and that proved to be the dagger.
“The angle was getting cut off for me and he was open,” Grant said.
The Clippers ran out the clock from there and celebrated their 4-2 victory.
“It feels great,” Grant said. “Playoff hockey is nothing compared to the regular season. We knew they’d come out and give it everything they had. Our message was we weren’t going to let go of the game. We gave them a little life, so we had to put them down. We got more into a defensive style of hockey and I think that helped us out in the end.”
“This is the first playoff game I’m privileged enough to win and it’s a great feeling,” Conrad said. “We know it’s a different game in the playoffs. We knew Greely would come out flying tonight and they didn’t give us anything we didn’t expect. There were big momentum shifts here and there, but we stayed solid. To close it out was just awesome.”
“Greely played a great defensive game and Kyle, I thought, played terrific in net,” St. Pierre added. “They’re well-coached, they play hard.”
Yarmouth had a 34-16 shots advantage. Allen made 14 saves.
Nothing came easily for Greely season, but the Rangers proved they belonged in the playoffs with their effort Tuesday.
“I’m really proud of the effort tonight, our focus from the get-go and the effort for three periods,” said longtime Greely coach Barry Mothes. “We kept coming back hard. We had some good looks. Some seriously good scoring chances. If we were more lethal on the finish, we could have had four or five goals.
“We’ve gotten stronger as a team the last few weeks. We had so much adversity all season. We’re young and we’ve had untimely injuries. We learned we have to keep battling. We spent a lot of time talking about playing hockey the right way and becoming more generous with the puck as a team. We made some advances. I’m glad we had this experience. I’d rather be here than not.”
Kramlich finished with 30 saves, capping a terrific four-year career which saw him backstop a pair of state championship teams.
“(Kyle) had a strong game,” Mothes said. “He’s had an outstanding career. It’s hard to believe it’s over. He leaves an incredible legacy. The playoffs have always brought the best out of him. A couple goals tonight were turnovers and breakdowns and the power play goal was a well placed shot with a lot of traffic in front. I’m not sure he saw that the way he wanted to.”
Look for Greely to bounce back with a vengeance in 2015-16.
“To pull it together and play a game like this gives us something to build on for next year,” Mothes said. “Other than Kyle, everyone else on the ice tonight and seven or eight injured guys are coming back. We have a lot to work on. We’ll continue to try and play a tough schedule. It’s not all about wins and losses. You need to win enough games to get in the tournament. I’d like to think we can build on this and carry it into next November and start from a stronger place than we did four months ago. “
Next up for Yarmouth in a semifinal round showdown with Gorham.
The Clippers twice beat the Rams by a goal in low scoring affairs late in the regular season, taking a 2-1 home decision Jan. 31 and winning, 1-0, in Gorham on Valentine’s day.
The teams have no playoff history.
In a season without a clear favorite, Yarmouth has a golden opportunity awaiting it.
“I like to think our chances are good,” Conrad said. “We’ll get ready. It’s the first time for a lot of guys in the locker room. It’s a great experience. Gorham is very strong offensively. I think it comes down to defensive hockey. Defense wins championships and that’s what we have to do to win. We have to shut them down in the defensive zone and hopefully, some goals to our way.”
“Gorham is as lethal as Greely, if not more,” Grant said. “We’ll keep going. It’s wide open. I like our chances against anyone.”
“It’s been awhile (since we’ve been in the semifinals),” St. Pierre added. “It’ll be nice. We’re playing better hockey now, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We don’t want to worry about years gone by, or the tradition of the program. We get at least one more game. We march on. It will be nice to be in the Colisee.”
Greely celebrates a goal during Tuesday’s loss.
Greely senior goalie Kyle Kramlich makes a save as a Yarmouth sophomore Bennett Travers flies into him. Kramlich was hurt on the play but stayed in the game and made 30 saves.
Yarmouth junior Walter Conrad has some shooting room.
Grant is congratulated by his teammates after scoring.
Yarmouth junior Patrick Grant prepares to score the game’s first goal.
Greely junior Nathan Gervais launches a shot.
Yarmouth junior Walter Conrad and Greely sophomore Dylan Fried battle for the puck.
Greely’s fans celebrate their team’s second goal.
Yarmouth’s boys’ hockey team celebrates its 4-2 win over Greely in Tuesday’s Western Class B quarterfinals. The Clippers will next face Gorham in the semifinals.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
2012 Western B semifinals
Greely 5 Yarmouth 2
2011 Western B semifinals
Greely 4 Yarmouth 2
2004 Western B semifinals
Greely 2 Yarmouth 1
1998 Western B semifinals
Greely 2 Yarmouth 1 (OT)
1993 Western B quarterfinals
Yarmouth 4 Greely 3
1991 Western B semifinals
Yarmouth 7 Greely 3
1990 Western B semifinals
Yarmouth 8 Greely 2
1988 Western B Final
Yarmouth 5 Greely 2
1987 Western B semifinals
Yarmouth 3 Greely 1