When Presque Isle makes its first appearance in a state championship hockey game Saturday, it will face an opponent only recently removed from that same new feeling.
While Greely of Cumberland Center will play in the Class B final for the second time in three years when it faces the Wildcats at 1 p.m. at the Colisee in Lewiston, its 2007 state final against Brewer marked the first time the Rangers had played for a state title since the program’s debut on the varsity level during the 1983-84 sea-son.
“That was a historic step for our program and for that team to be the first from our school to get to a state final,” said Greely coach Barry Mothes of the 2007 game, a 4-3 overtime loss.
Presque Isle, which emerged from the No. 4 seed in Eastern B to win its first regional title Tuesday with a 5-2 win over 2008 state champion Winslow, will face a familiar opponent in its state championship game debut — but the memories aren’t pleasant.
Presque Isle (11-7-3) lost to Greely 10-1 during a southern Maine swing on Jan. 17, a day after losing a 6-3 decision to the other Western B finalist, Cape Elizabeth.
“We didn’t play all that well against Cape Elizabeth or Greely early on. But our goalie has improved quite a bit since then,” said Wildcats junior defenseman Jason Martin.
In reality, the first Greely-Presque Isle game — in which the Rangers jumped out to a 5-0 first-period lead — is an encounter both teams would like to forget, because neither team expects the rematch to be as one-sided.
“We respect Presque Isle as an opponent, and that first game is way behind us,” said Mothes. “It feels like it was a year ago now.
“Presque Isle has gone on to have a strong postseason run, and we’re focused on what’s ahead rather than what’s already happened.”
Presque Isle is 7-1-1 since its loss to Greely, including postseason wins over No. 5 Houlton-Hodgdon (4-3 in overtime), top-ranked John Bapst of Bangor (5-1) and No. 3 Winslow.
Defense has been one key to that success, particularly the work of sophomore goalie Josh MacFarline, who has allowed just two goals per game during tournament play.
The Wildcats are led offensively by junior center Brennen Shaw, who has scored twice in each playoff game and has 30 goals and 30 assists on the season. He is flanked by junior left wing Mitchell Davis (13 & 19) and freshman right wing Isaac LaJoie (10 & 13).
Dr. Carl Flynn’s club also boasts a productive second line with senior Dylan Collins (19 & 21) centering classmate Josh Buck (8 & 12) and junior Zac Campbell (4 & 10).
Martin (5 & 13) and junior Steve Ford (6 & 10) anchor the defense in front of MacFarline.
“Brennen Shaw’s had a very good season and is one of the most dangerous forwards in Eastern B,” said Mothes, “and their goalie has had a nice run during the postseason.”
Greely (19-1) counters with an offense led by seniors Jesse Shavel (26 & 20), Kyle Selig (11 & 14) and Brian Allyn (12 & 9). Freshman Brian Hart (21 & 8) is another top scorer for the Rangers.
Greely likely will be without All-Maine senior defenseman Kevin Hart (15 & 15), who suffered a back injury during the Rangers’ 8-0 WM semifinal win over York and sat out the regional final, a 6-3 victory over No. 2 Cape Elizabeth.
“I don’t think he’s going to be playing Saturday,” said Mothes.
In Kevin Hart’s absence, seniors Jake Downey and Ryan Howland and junior Carter Cyr will anchor the Greely defense in front of sophomore goalie Matt Labbe. That defense has allowed just 11 goals in its last 11 games.
“The key will be to not be nervous against them,” said Shaw. “When we played them earlier, we know it wasn’t our best game. It was our worst game of the season. We were all sick and tired.”