LEWISTON — A team chasing its third consecutive state championship should be immune to self-doubt.
But nothing has gone as planned for the Greely boys’ hockey team this winter. Except that the Rangers are back in the Western Class B final.
There were early injuries, some academic suspensions and a 1-3-1 record heading into a Jan. 8 game at St. Dominic. That was the day the Rangers discovered goaltender Kyle Kramlich was out with an arm injury.
“We were starting to panic a little bit,” forward Joe Saffian said. “We stepped up in that game. We pulled out a tie.
“Mentally, I think it changed everything. I think people realized we have the skill to make it deep in the playoffs like we have in the past. But we learned the style we needed to play to win.”
Christian Kroot stepped up to earn that 3-3 tie in Kramlich’s relief. The Rangers went 2-2-1 while Kramlich was sidelined, including the first of two 2-1 victories over Gorham, which is Wednesday’s opponent in the 7 p.m. regional final at the Colisee.
Saffian said the Rangers needed to concede that the freewheeling days of the past two years, when they could rely on a few highly skilled scorers to carry the load, were gone. Instead the team had to slow things down and play a more fundamentally sound, disciplined style of hockey.
“Getting pucks deep when we cross the red line, getting pucks to the net, getting people in front of the net, chipping the puck out of our zone,” Saffian said. “Just smarter hockey.”
It wasn’t always smooth for Greely, which carries a 10-7-3 record into Wednesday’s game. A team that averages only three goals per game has little margin for error.
Yet here it is again.
“I think this team has grown a lot. This team has a lot of balance,” Greely Coach Barry Mothes said.
“We haven’t been getting it from just one or two people. It was different guys and different lines every night, and to me that’s fun hockey, that’s good team hockey and that speaks well of our team. I think everyone has the sense that everybody has to do more.”
Aidan Black, another forward, said there was actually a second turning point for his team. On the road against Camden Hills on Jan. 29, the Rangers had their best offensive showing in a 7-2 win.
That result brought Greely back to .500 at 5-5-3.
“We showed we could play with every team, and every game was close from there on out,” Black said.
“We picked up our shot count more recently. That’s been a big difference. Get as many shots as you can, a certain number will just go in.”
Gorham is the top seed in the West with a 16-3 record. But two of those losses were to Greely and the Rams know they must prove they can upend the champs to erase the doubters.
As a Class A team the past two years, Gorham fell to eventual champions Thornton Academy and Falmouth in the playoffs.
“They’re the standard that’s been set the past few years and we’re trying to live up to that standard and surpass it,” Gorham Coach Jon Portwine said of Greely.
“I feel like we’re the underdog even though the seeding might say something different.”
The Rams’ biggest asset may be diminutive goaltender Justin Broy, a senior who has a much more determined look in his eye now that the end of his career is near, Portwine said.
This will be the biggest game of Broy’s life, and he said he’s been working harder to perfect any little weakness leading up to it. He shut out Kennebunk 1-0 in the semifinal, but that was just a tuneup and he knows it.
“I’ve been looking toward this game since they beat us the second time at home,” said Broy, who stands just 5-foot-8.
Opposing him will be Greely junior Kramlich, who has never lost a postseason game.
“Being the last guy on defense, you can either win the game for your team or lose the game for your team, and I like that pressure. I’ve always liked that pressure,” Broy said.
Black knows how difficult it is to beat a team – and a goaltender like Broy – three times in a season. He’s hopeful that the experience his Rangers learned during a surprisingly rocky season will make the difference.
“We roll three lines now and so I think we just need to wear them out,” Black said. “By the third period we’ll be able to take them down, hopefully.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: