AUBURN — Greely might not bear much resemblance to the team that won back-to-back girls’ hockey state championships, but to call the Rangers a “tough out” in the Eastern Maine tournament is so overly simplistic, it’s laughable.
Lewiston knew it would take a tireless effort, and yes, a friendly bounce or two to survive Saturday night’s regional semifinal.
The No. 2 Blue Devils fulfilled both sides of that equation in a 1-0 ouster of the No. 3 Rangers at Norway Savings Bank Arena.
Erica Lemieux’s goal caromed in off a Greely defender with 1:48 remaining in the second period.
It stood up thanks to goalie Paige Fontaine and the Lewiston defense, which fought off Greely’s 6-on-4 flourish in the final 45 seconds.
“I couldn’t even look at the clock,” Lewiston coach Ron Dumont said.
Now the Devils (14-4-1) can just look at the calendar. They’ll travel to Portland Ice Arena to meet top-seeded rival Leavitt/Edward Little for the Eastern championship at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Fontaine made 21 saves to beat Greely for the third time this winter and get Lewiston there.
“It was intense. I’m just happy that we won,” Fontaine said. “I just can’t wait to see what the championship game is like. It’s my first final. I’m excited.”
Lemieux loaded up from just inside the blue line to break the scoreless stalemate late in the second period.
Mikaela St. Laurent made the pass to Lemieux, a junior defensive stalwart who was frustrated with Lewiston’s lack of offensive punch to that point.
“We weren’t getting enough shots off, so I just threw it to the net to see what would happen, and I got lucky,” Lemieux said.
Specifically, her shot found one of the Rangers’ legs and floated like a knuckleball past goalie Maura Perry’s reach.
“We’re not whining, but we haven’t seen the breaks all year,” Dumont said. “Some of it is our own fault, but we just haven’t had those little breaks. We finally caught one that went into the net, found its way through. We didn’t know at the time it would be the only one we needed.”
Prior to the goal, Lewiston struggled through two listless power plays. Perry already had made 15 of her 20 saves.
“It pumped us up,” Lemieux said. “Scoring in that last few minutes of the second helped us in the third.”
Lewiston needed all that positive energy and emotion after it was whistled for a tripping minor with 1:46 remaining.
Greely called timeout. Dumont gathered Erin Hubbard, Allison Frechette, Mikaela Brown and Lemieux in a semicircle and sugarcoated nothing.
“I told them during the timeout, ‘You four are going to have to go the rest of the way, so keep moving.’ We actually used the same thought process: Keep the pressure and keep them from breaking out and getting set up,” Dumont said.
Lewiston pinned Greely into its own end for almost a full minute before the Rangers could escape the zone and pull Perry for an extra attacker.
Frechette cleared it the length of the ice with 30 seconds left. Hubbard then blocked a shot before Fontaine slapped down a bid by Victoria Lattanzi and smothered Emilee McGillicuddy’s third try with eight seconds left.
“All I can do is just wait. It’s like practice. Patience and just keep your head in the game,” Fontaine said. “I thank (my defense) from the bottom of my heart. I’m so happy they have my back.”
Greely (12-7) won one more faceoff, but Frechette deflected a last-ditch offering by Ellie Schad at the horn.
Twelve of the Rangers’ 15 players in their bid for a third straight title were freshmen and sophomores.
“That team is gritty as hell. They just keep coming and coming and they’re not going to give up,” Dumont said. “They’re always a classy team, which is great. We had a real good time.”