While Presque Isle will provide a Cinderella aspect to this weekend’s Class B hockey state final, Greely of Cumberland Center’s presence in the game will come as absolutely no surprise.
The Rangers reached their first state final two years ago before falling to Brewer 4-3 in overtime, then advanced to the Western Maine title game again last season.
This winter, coach Barry Mothes’ club is 19-1 after Wednesday night’s come-from-behind 6-3 win over Cape Elizabeth in its regional final.
“The players had high goals, and I had high expectations,” said Mothes, whose team will face Presque Isle for the state title in a 1 p.m. start Saturday from the Colisee in Lewiston. “We’ve worked really hard every day, and through a challenging schedule have put together a strong season.”
Greely lost its second game of the season to Class A Thornton Academy of Saco, but since then have run off 18 consecutive victories — including a 10-1 win over Presque Isle on Jan. 17.
“That game is way behind us,” said Mothes. “It feels like it was a year ago now.”
The Rangers entered the Western B playoffs as the No. 1 seed, then blitzed York 8-0 in the semifinals before rallying from a 3-1 deficit to defeat second-seeded Cape Elizabeth.
Greely played its regional final without the services of All-Maine defenseman Kevin Hart, a senior and four-year starter who suffered a back injury against York.
“We got some tough news Tuesday when we learned Kevin wouldn’t be able to play,” said Mothes. “We didn’t have time to adjust, but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.”
Cape Elizabeth used two power-play goals to jump out to a 3-1 lead in the WM final, but goals by freshman Brian Hart — Kevin Hart’s brother — and Ian Gray tied the match by the end of the second period and gave Greely the momentum to take control over the final 15 minutes of play.
“The guys played with a lot of character and heart [Wednesday] night,” said Mothes. “Cape is a big rival, and we’ve had a lot of big games against them.
“We got a couple of huge goals to tie it after two periods, and that made it a 15-minute game and we came out for the third period with great focus and determination.”
The Rangers have been led offensively throughout the season by Jesse Shavel (26 goals and 20 assists for 46 points), who centers an all-senior line with wingers Kyle Selig (11-14-25) and Brian Allyn (12-9-21). Brian Hart (21-8-29) is another top scorer for Greely.
Mothes doesn’t expect Kevin Hart (15-15-30) to play against 11-7-3 Presque Isle, which defeated 2008 state champion Winslow 5-2 on Tuesday night to win its first regional championship after finishing the regular season ranked fourth in Eastern Maine Class B.
That leaves Greely’s defensive leadership to seniors Jake Downey and Ryan Howland and junior Carter Cyr in front of sophomore Matt Labbe, a second-year starter in goal.
Labbe and the entire defense have come on strong late in the season, allowing just 11 goals in the team’s last 11 games.
“[Labbe’s] goals-against average has been coming down during the last stretch,” said Mothes. “Overall we’ve tightened up our defensive work, we’re taking care of the puck much better in our end, and Matt has tightened up his game.
“He’s had a couple of good months in goal and some strong games against good teams like [Class A] Biddeford, Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth. He’s finished the season strong.”