Wednesday, December 11, 2013
LEWISTON - Kyle Kramlich whipped off his goalie's mask and shed his oversized glove and blocker. He was no longer the 14-year-old kid with the weight of a hockey team and its fans on his shoulders.
When he joined the growing pile of Greely High teammates celebrating Saturday's win over Messalonskee in the Class B state final, Kramlich didn't have a worry in the world. Other than to make sure he wasn't crushed too badly.
He was the first to break free and skate to the other side of the Colisee. Greely fans watched him coming and their cheers got louder still. The smallest player on the ice had the biggest smile.
"I was so happy for the seniors," said Kramlich. "This means so much to them."
Greely beat Messalonskee 6-2 to win the Class B championship. The victory had many fathers, including the little kid who stood so tall in goal. Maybe he's 5-foot-5 on skates. Maybe his head comes up to the shoulders of defensemen like Zac Doucette and Kyle Megathlin, who played so well in front of him.
Like they were his bodyguards.
"I had a lot of butterflies before the game," said Kramlich. "My teammates made them go away."
His voice broke, if just a little. He wasn't trying to control those emotions; he seemed to be dealing with the last stages of puberty. He's that young.
But this is 2012, when many freshmen in hockey have already seen the world, so to speak. Ask Kramlich what his biggest game was before this year and he doesn't have to think. Playing for the national championship with his Casco Bay bantam team last year was big at the time.
"But this is much bigger," he said.
He hugged senior co-captain Jordan Tarbox after turning away from his adoring fans. Tarbox alternately grounds him or feeds his confidence. What, this kid needs confidence-building?
Everybody does, said Tarbox. Some more than others. "He's a great kid. I just tell him we're all working to help him. We don't have any doubts (that Kramlich should be the guy in goal.)"
In the classroom he's a quiet, unassuming kid, said Barry Mothes, Greely's head coach and Kramlich's teacher advisor. "He's friends with most of the players on the girls' hockey team. When you see him in the halls, he's usually walking with them.
"On the ice, he doesn't scare."
Several times Saturday, he faced breakaways. He didn't flinch and the puck didn't get behind him. He saw fewer than 20 shots. In the first period he was the loneliest guy on the ice, seeing four shots. The puck was in the Messalonskee end for virtually all of the opening period.
Good strategy, Coach, when you have a freshman goalie. Let him get his legs going on his own. Ease him into the game.
"No," said Mothes. "He wants to get involved early."
An older cousin is Casey Kramlich, an amateur at the Portland Boxing Club who's qualified for national tournaments. Tom and Mark Kramlich, his father and uncle, were part of the championship-winning crews of touring stock car drivers Robbie Crouch of Vermont and Brad Leighton of New Hampshire
In fact, Kyle Kramlich races at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway when he can. Hockey, boxing, racing at speed. Got to be a fearless gene in this family. Kramlich was on skates when he was 2 and in goal when he was 5.
After the embrace with Tarbox, Greely's players formed the line for the traditional post-game handshake. The player at the head of the line? Kyle Kramlich.
"That wasn't planned," said Mothes. "The players figure that out among themselves."
Kramlich may have been the last player on the team bus. Maybe it was the half-dozen female hockey players waiting outside the Greely locker room who held him up.
Maybe the kid was so mature he just wanted to linger, soaking up every possible memory. Where can he go from here?
Back to his Casco Bay bantam team, he said, thinking of the immediate future. Time to play for another national championship.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: