LEWISTON, Maine — It wasn’t the high-scoring shootout they may have anticipated, but the Greely of Cumberland boys’ ice hockey team certainly will take the result.
Goals by Aidan Black, Reid Howland and Ted Hart lifted the Rangers to their second consecutive Class B state championship Saturday afternoon with a 3-0 victory over Messalonskee of Oakland at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
This game, a rematch of last year’s state final that the Rangers won by a 6-2 count, caps off a 17-4 season that also enabled Greely to secure its third state title in the last five years.
“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment,” Black, a junior center, said. “We met our goals this year, we came in first and we made our way back to the state championship for the second year in a row. It’s great.”
Greely outshot Messalonskee 31-17, with sophomore goalie Kyle Kramlich earning the shutout with 17 often testing saves.
“He’s a battler and a great playoff goalie,” said Greely coach Barry Mothes of Kramlich, who also started Greely’s 2012 state title-game victory. “I think the bigger the game the more he loves it. He’s not scared of anything, he loves to compete, and I think the guys have tremendous confidence in him.”
Messalonskee junior Ben Weeks, a first-year starter in goal, made 28 stops to keep the Eastern Maine champions in contention for their first state crown.
“I thought we played well,” said Messalonskee coach Mike Latrendesse, whose team ended the season with an 18-3 record. “We accomplished what we were trying to do, to slow them down in the middle of the ice, and I think we did that. At times they put the pressure on, and we expected that, but Benny made the saves and their goalie was fantastic.”
After a feeling-out first period, both teams amped up the offensive intensity level during the match’s middle 15 minutes.
Greely immediately pressured Weeks with high-quality shots in the first minute of the period, and while Messalonskee manufactured dangerous scoring bids of its own, the Eagles initially had some difficulty putting them on goal.
Greely finally broke through for a 1-0 lead 7:28 into the period on a give-and-go play featuring Black and junior left wing Joe Saffian.
Black gained control of the puck on the left wing near the blue line, carried it into the offensive zone and dropped it behind to the trailing Saffian. As Saffian approached the left circle, Black skated across the crease and Saffian made a crisp pass to his linemate that Black re-directed into the upper right corner of the net.
“I dumped it off to Joe Saffian and he made a beautiful pass back to me at the back post and I put it home,” said Black. “It wasn’t too hard a finish for me, but it was a pretty goal for us.”
The goal didn’t translate into momentum for the Rangers, as Messalonskee countered with its best sustained attack of the afternoon. Junior right wing Chase Cunningham in particular tested Kramlich several times during the final seven minutes of the period — one a sharp-angled attempt from the left circle that clipped the front of the right goal post.
That came during Messalonskee’s second power play of the match after Greely’s Pete Hurley was whistled for roughing at 12:18.
“We had our chances, in the second period especially,” Latendresse said. “I think if we score one or two right there, it’s a different game in the end, maybe not a different ending but it puts us right in the game and really puts a lot of pressure on them because I felt they had the pressure on them. They were the favorite, there’s no doubt about that.”
Greely finally padded its lead at 5:31 of the third period when Howland scored on an assist from linemate Mitchel Donovan.
Donovan gained control of the puck behind the Messalonskee goal and spotted Howland open near the right post. Donovan made the quick pass, and Howland caromed the puck into the net off Weeks’ stick to give Greely the insurance goal it so desired.
“They pushed hard against us, but Kyle Kramlich kept us in it,” Black said. “And then we got the second goal, and that’s when we really felt confident and were able to play a little more defensive and finish off the game.”
Messalonskee managed few scoring bids against the Rangers during the third period until the final minute of play when brothers Jared and Chase Cunningham had several close-range attempts during a scramble near the goal crease, only to be denied by Kramlich and his defense until the goal came off its moorings and play finally was stopped.
Kramlich, Greely defenseman Brian Story and Messalonskee’s Kalib Bernatchez all drew two-minute penalties in the aftermath of the play to give the Eagles a late power play, but it was the high-scoring Hart who wristed his 35th goal of the season into an empty net from his defensive blue line with 15.8 seconds remaining.
“I thought it might be a higher-scoring game given the offensive firepower of both teams,” Mothes said. “We certainly were focused on not letting them get their offense going, and to shut that team out and to hold them to 17 shots just speaks to the effort our guys put in off the puck.
“They obviously came hard at the back end of that second period and we were probably lucky to get out of that at 1-0, but we regrouped and made some adjustments to our forecheck and had some positional discipline in the third period that tightened things up in a way that helped us.”