Greely junior Jake MacDonald prepares to beat Gardiner sophomore goalie Quinn Veregge for one of his three goals in Monday’s 7-2 Rangers’ victory.

Gregory Rec / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

FALMOUTH—For the first time this century, Greely’s boys’ hockey team has navigated the first half of its season without a loss or a tie, but the Rangers don’t care about how they start.

They care about how they finish and they’re on a mission to complete what last year’s squad started.

Greely, which lost by a goal in overtime in the state final last winter, hosted Gardiner Monday afternoon at Family Ice Center and demonstrated yet again why it so tough to contend with.

The Rangers got the jump on the power play when junior captain Andy Moore scored.

With 34.7 seconds remaining in the first period, junior Jake MacDonald doubled Greely’s lead, but the Tigers answered and made things interesting when sophomore Gabe Poirier with 6.2 seconds on the clock.

Gardiner pulled even at 2-2 with 5:03 remaining in the second period, on a goal from junior Tanner Hebert, but MacDonald scored two goals in a 53-second span, giving him a hat trick and the Rangers a 4-2 lead heading to the third period.

There, Greely put it away on the power play, as senior captain Jackson Williams scored twice and senior Peter Lattanzi added another and the Rangers went on to a 7-2 victory.

Four different players scored goals, two others had assists and Greely improved to a perfect 9-0 at the season’s midway point, dropping the Tigers to 7-5 in the process.

“It was a tight game deep into that second period,” said longtime Rangers coach Barry Mothes. “I’m not sure the score tells the whole story.”

Halfway there

After falling, 3-2, in overtime, to Old Town/Orono in last winter’s Class B championship game, Greely entered the 2018-19 season as the favorite and it’s fair to say that the Rangers haven’t disappointed, passing every test to date.

Greely opened with an 8-4 win at York, then gave Mothes his 300th victory with an 8-1 win at Kennebunk. After downing host Yarmouth, 6-1, the Rangers closed the 2018 portion of the schedule with a 5-1 home victory over Cape Elizabeth in a regional final rematch. Greely then started 2019 in style with an 8-3 “Dudley Cup” win at Falmouth and followed that up with victories over visiting Biddeford (8-3), visiting Brunswick (11-4) and host Gorham (3-2).

Gardiner started 1-2, won six in a row, then lost at Leavitt (3-1) and at Yarmouth (3-2).

Last year, the Rangers won both meetings, 9-2 at home and 4-0 on the road.

Monday, the Tigers hoped to beat Greely for the first time since Dec. 10, 2016, but the Rangers made it four in a row in the series.

Gardiner came out strong and had a good look just 12 seconds in, but Greely sophomore goalie Ben Singer denied Poirier.

At the other end, MacDonald was stopped by Tigers sophomore goalie Quinn Veregge.

Gardiner tried again to take the lead, but Singer stopped Poirier point blank and turned aside a rebound bid from Hebert.

With 12:36 to play in the first period, Tigers junior Jake Weston was sent to the penalty box for tripping and the Rangers took advantage.

After Veregge stopped a shot from MacDonald, MacDonald got the puck to Moore, who skated in and scored for a 1-0 lead with 11:43 remaining.

Gardiner then went on the power play after Greely junior Owen O’Connell was sent off for interference, but Singer made a save on a shot from Hebert.

After Singer denied freshman Cam Rizzo and Veregge robbed MacDonald, MacDonald doubled the Rangers’ lead with 34.7 seconds to go in the first period, beating Veregge through the five-hole with Williams getting an assist.

But just when it appeared Greely would have all the momentum, Poirier got free and sent the puck past Singer with just 6.2 seconds left and the Tigers were back within one, 2-1, heading to the first intermission.

“That’s happened a couple times this season and it’s very, very frustrating,” said Mothes. “We’re going to have to work on that because those are crucial moments. If that happens in a big, tight game, we’ll regret it. It’s part of the bigger picture of trying to be a thorough team.”

After holding a 12-8 edge in shots in the first period, the Rangers dominated the second, to the tune of a 13-2 advantage, but it would be Gardiner scoring first to tie the contest.

After Greely failed to convert on a four-minute power play, the Tigers made it 2-2 with 5:03 on the clock, as Hebert scored unassisted.

Seeing the lead slip away only awakened MacDonald and his teammates and 26 seconds later, the Rangers were ahead to stay.

MacDonald did the honors, banging home a loose puck in front of Veregge with 4:37 remaining in the second. Sophomore Zach Dubbert and Williams were credited with assists.

“I was just trying to get a shot through,” MacDonald said. “Our power play is very good. We get to the puck fast. We have great team chemistry. No one is selfish. We move the puck a lot. With our team this year, we trust ourselves. We know if we get down, or let up a goal, we’ll get it right back.”

“Jake’s obviously been a big-game player these last two years,” Mothes said. “He’s having a really strong season so far as a junior. He’s improved his strength and speed. It’s fun to watch. He’s tough to contain. He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s big on the power play for us, big five-on-five and he’s a great penalty killer.”

MacDonald then struck again with 3:44 on the clock, as Williams again got the assist, and Greely took a 4-2 lead to the second intermission.

“It’s great having so much depth this  year,” said MacDonald. “We can go with lines one through three and know we can score. That’s great.”

The Rangers then ended all doubt in the third period, scoring three times on the power play.

With 11:28 left, out of a scrum, Williams scored for the first time, with junior Caleb Duff and Moore getting assists.

The sixth goal came with 5:01 remaining, as Williams scored again on the power play, rebounding a shot with Duff and MacDonald getting assists.

With 3:48 to play, Lattanzi accounted for the final score when he scored on the power play, with MacDonald and Williams getting assists.

“We were a little more disciplined today,” Mothes said. “We’ve talked about mental toughness and we did a better job keeping our composure and getting power plays that helped us open it up.

“We’ve taken the season in pieces. We’re trying to stay strong here in the middle. The season just seems to deepen and teams get better and games get more significant with more Heal Points on the line. It’s been a good stretch of games against teams we haven’t played yet this season.”

Greely had a whopping 42-13 shots advantage and got 11 saves from Singer.

Gardiner got 35 saves from Veregge, but gave up four power play tallies.

“(Greely’s) depth is unbelievable,” said Tigers coach Tyler Wing. “We’ve got three solid lines that I skate reliably, but we couldn’t touch their lines. It was a confidence-booster for the team getting back to 2-2, but the penalties deflated us. The penalty box has been a struggle on and off for us. We’ve worked on our penalty kill, but they did well exploiting our weaknesses.”

Playing the big boys

The teams aren’t scheduled to play again this winter, but could square off in the postseason.

Gardiner (currently second in the Class B South Heal Points standings) is back in action Wednesday at Bangor.

“I think we could hold our own against (Greely) next time,” Wing said. “We’ll adjust our strategy. We need to maintain our positive play and get rid of some of the negative stuff like penalties and focus on fundamentals that we’ve worked on throughout the season.”

Greely (first in the region) has a big home test versus St. Dom’s Thursday. A trip to two-time defending Class A champion Lewiston looms Jan. 30. The Rangers will also be tested at home by Gorham and Yarmouth and at Cape Elizabeth before all is said and done.

“It’s just a great group of guys this year,” said MacDonald. “Everyone wants to be here and everyone wants to win. Last year was rough and it’s always in the backs of our minds. We’re trying to bear down and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Those games (coming up) will be great. We’ll see how good a team we are.”

“It’s exciting to have these games on the schedule,” Mothes said. “It would have been exciting any time, but it’s a good time for some new challenges against some legendary teams. We know they’ll be good games. That’s exactly what we need. Then, we’ll be down to seven games left and we’ll play Cape and Yarmouth ad Gorham again. They’ll help us stay sharp. I think our guys have been good about rising to the challenges.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Greely senior Peter Lattanzi carries the puck as Gardiner junior Sean Michaud defends.

Gardiner junior Jared Shaw keeps the puck away from Greely junior Jake MacDonald.

Greely junior captain Andy Moore carries the puck into the offensive zone as Gardiner sophomore Jon Flynn defends.

Gardiner sophomore Quinn Veregge makes one of his 35 saves.

Greely senior Peter Lattanzi and Gardiner junior Jared Shaw fight for the puck.