The Rhode Island interscholastic hockey season is right around the corner, and Blackstone Valley coaches are excited about moving from pre-season training to playing actual games.
As always, Mount St. Charles, La Salle and Hendricken are early favorites to fight for the Division I/Cimini title, while defending D-I/Eccleston champion Burrillville is hell-bent on defending its crown.
Division II, however, has seen a change, as Rhode Island Interscholastic League officials have chosen to add a five-team Central league to the already-existing North and South, which also will field five contingents. Likewise, Lincoln has switched from D-I/Eccleston back to II-North, and could battle Cumberland, two-time defending champion Coventry, Pilgrim and St. Raphael/PCD/Wheeler Co-op for the top spot.
â€śWith Lincoln coming down from D-I, itâ€™s always a solid team, and now weâ€™re going to have to play Prout, which made it to the D-II finals last year,â€ť noted Clippersâ€™ mentor Mark Andreozzi, whose team finished second in II-North (11-5-2) a year ago.
â€śBefore, you only had to prepare for the six teams in your division. Now, you have to prepare for 14, so it makes it more difficult from a logistical and time standpoint. I think the entire division is going to be stronger. It was really competitive last season, now it will be more so.â€ť
As for Division III, East Providence (13-3-0 in 2012) desperately would like to repeat as Rhode Island champion, but it will have its hands full with the likes of regular-season champion Johnston/North Providence Co-op, Tolman, Mount Hope and Cranston East, all of whom registered winning marks.
That being said, here are capsules on each area team, listed in alphabetical order:
Head coach: Steve Daigle.
2011-12 results: Finished first (13-5-0) in Division I/Eccleston; lost in semifinal set to eventual state champion Hendricken.
Returning players: 12.
Key players: Blake Boutiette, senior, co-captain, defense; Evan Lafond, senior, co-captain, center; Chad Stone, sophomore, forward; Mitch Lafond, senior, defense; Zach Bertholic, junior, right wing; Drew Buxton, junior, left wing; Nick Koprusak, sophomore, defense; Dan Takita, senior, left wing; Tyler Kearney, freshman, right wing; Kyle Wilkinson, junior, goalie; Tyler Gautreau, junior, defense.
Looking back: The Broncos dropped their first three tilts, but captured 13 of the next 15, including nine straight, to close the season. Daigle called it a terrific campaign, with a pair of standouts leading the way. Senior keeper Jacob Toback snared All-State second-team honors, while classmate Andrew Etheridge earned first-team All-Division honors and led the squad in scoring (30 points) â€¦ â€śWe really gave (the Hawks) a great fight; we lost 2-1 and 3-2, and everyone was talking about it â€“ how a public school team could play so well against them.
Outlook: Wilkinson will be between the pipes, though doesnâ€™t have a lot of experience, given the fact Toback started all four years. Daigle, however, has a pair of returning starters, senior co-captains Blake Boutiette (defense) and Evan Lafond (center). Lafond, the teamâ€™s top returnee in points (12 goals, seven assists), will be on the Broncosâ€™ top line with Bertholic and Buxton, the assistant captain. Stone, who mustered 11 goals and six assists last winter, will head the second line, which will consist of Takita and Kearney, a freshman whom Daigle calls â€śvery talented, small but skilled, with a lot of hockey senseâ€ť â€¦ Boutiette and Mitch Lafond, a four-year starter, hopefully will help protect Wilkinson on defense, while Gautreau (who should be back from a football injury in two weeks) and sophomores Ben Robinson and Pat McConnell all are fighting for the third and fourth defensemen slots â€¦ Daigle stated Kearney and fellow frosh Riley Tupper (swing) will see significant action because of their talents.
Coach's take: â€śKyle has been looking really good. I feel as though weâ€™re really thin, numbers-wise, but we have a lot of returning players, so I think we can battle for first place in the Eccleston again. I know weâ€™ll be competitive; we have some top-notch, quality forwards coming back, and we have probably two of the best defensemen in the state in Lafond and Boutiette. The question mark is at goaltending, and the fact our back two defensemen donâ€™t have a lot of experience.â€ť
Head coach: Mark Andreozzi.
2011-12 results: Second in Division II-North, 11-5-2; finished behind II-North and eventual state champion Coventry; earned playoff berth.
Returning players: 11.
Key players: Matt Rzemien, senior, co-captain, forward; Jared Dulieu, senior, co-captain, forward; Elliot Ray, senior, forward; Rob DeOrsey, senior, defense; Jamie Casilli, junior, defense; Josh Santoro, junior, defense; Jack Wainwright, defense; Greg Wellington, sophomore, defense; Andrew Pluta, junior, forward; Liam Curran, junior, forward; Jason Donnelly, junior forward; Tom Malloy, sophomore, defense; Connor Colburn, sophomore, defense; Evan Hosney, senior, goalie; Leo Lake, sophomore, goalie; Zack Kay, sophomore, goalie.
Looking back: Andreozzi claimed that 11-5-2 league mark wasn't bad, â€śbut it could've been better.â€ť He lost six seniors to graduation, but now heads a team that is very young. Both of his leading scorers, Mike Kinch and Ryan Huber, have left, as has his starting keeper.
Outlook: Andreozzi enters the season with four seniors, two juniors and five sophomores with significant playing time. He did, however, land a couple of transfers from Mount St. Charles. They include Casilli and Santoro, and he claimed both are solid additions to the young Clippers. He plans on a trio of seniors â€“ Dulieu, Rzemien and Ray â€“ to make up his top line, while hoping Pluta, Curran and Ray can improve their games and add much-needed offense on the second â€¦ He also doesn't know who will do the netminding, as senior Evan Hosney and sophomores Leo Lake and Zack Kay still are competing for that role.
Coach's take: â€śEvan didn't see any action, and only took up hockey a few years ago, so we don't have a starting goalie yet. As for offense, we're trying to figure out our lines right now. We're still working on who's going to play where and when. We're hoping the forwards will be the ones who step it up and put the puck in the net. Defensively, we'll have Casilli and Santoro and DeOrsey back there, but we're also looking at Colburn, Malloy and (sophomore) Kyle McKenna. We're hoping they can help (the upperclassmen) out â€¦ It remains to be seen how good this team can be. They've looked good in practice; they're listening, and the chemistry looks good. I'm excited about the start of the season, but we're going to have to take it one day at a time.â€ť
Head coach: Kevin Croke.
2011-12 results: Second in Division III, 13-3-0 record; defeated Mount Hope in D-III state championship series.
Returning players: 10.
Key players: Troy Derrick, senior, co-captain, center; Kevin Hall, senior, co-captain, left wing; Marc LaValley, sophomore, goalie; Kyle Marquis, sophomore, assistant captain, defense; Josh Letendre, junior, right wing; Ryan Costa, sophomore, center; Jared Estrella, sophomore, left wing; Tyler Maxwell, sophomore, defense.
Looking back: According to Coach Croke, the Townies captured the state title last winter because his squad exhibited intense grit and
determination. â€śLast year, we had a character team,â€ť he said. â€śIt was one of determined kids who wore their hearts on their sleeves. Every game, they left everything they had on the ice. You look at our big wins, and it seemed the bounces went our way a lot. Against Tolman in the semis, we knocked a couple of pucks off of their defensemen from below the net, and once bounced off (Tigers' netminder Stephane Meunier. We were a team of destiny, there's no other way to put it.â€ť
Outlook: A year ago, the Townies went with a three-defensemen system, but Croke wants to employ at least one or two more to shore up a defense somewhat depleted by graduation. He claimed that defense should be in good shape with the likes of Marquis and Maxwell, not to mention freshman Austin Hartley, a transfer from North Carolina; sophomore Andrew Gordon; and junior Tyler Medeiros, a newcomer to the ice and most probably a fifth defensemen â€¦ â€śWe find ourselves as only the third team in EP hockey history to be able to defend a state championship, as those in 1975 and 2005 didn't; I think the kids want that desperately,â€ť Croke noted. â€śOur ultimate goal is to repeat. We have many more kids on the roster (24) than we did last season (17), so that should help. I guess that's what winning a state title will do for you. Still, of those 24, 17 are freshmen and sophomores.â€ť
Coach's take: â€śOur goal is to be better this year than last. There was a realignment, so we have a couple of new teams from D-II joining us â€“ Narragansett and Ponaganset â€“ as Mount Hope and Johnston/North Providence Co-op moved up to D-II. We just have to play our game, and develop the strength of character to win games like we did last season. It's still early, and we're young, so there's going to be a lot of pressure. I think if our goalkeeping and defense can hold up, and there's no reason to think either of them can't, then the pressure will be on our offense to score. I'm an offensive kind of guy, so I better see that.â€ť
Head coach: Jim Riel.
2011-12 results: Tied for fourth in Division I-Eccleston (with Cranston West), 5-11-2.
Returning seniors: 7.
Key players: Jerzy Polak, senior, co-captain, center; Ryan Krohto, senior, right wing; Chris Leclaire, sophomore, goalie; Michael Sullivan, senior, defense; Anthony Mancini, senior, defense; Drew Wood, senior, co-captain, center; Nick Moreau, senior, left wing; Taylor Rego, senior, right wing; Tyler Duquette, junior, defense; Robbie Lake, junior, defense; Griffin Hevey, junior, left wing.
Looking back: â€śI was happy with last year, in terms of us being
competitive in the top division (Eccleston, made up entirely of public schools), but we didn't make the playoffs, and that was a little
disappointing,â€ť Riel stated. â€śWe lost a few games down the stretch, but if we had put a couple of more goals in the net, we could have at least tied a couple of them, which would've put us into the post-season.â€ť
Outlook: Riel claimed he was thrilled with Leclaire's freshman campaign, as he finished with a 3.8 goals-against average and .900 save percentage playing against the state's premier squads, including Mount St. Charles, Hendricken, La Salle, Burrillville, etc. He's also excited about the Lions dropping for D-I to II-North. â€śAt the end of the day, that's where we belong,â€ť he claimed. â€śWe were facing schools with higher participation numbers to draw from and who had far more ice time.â€ť Four defensemen, including Sullivan, Mancini, Lake and Duquette, are all over six feet and play a physical brand of hockey.
Coach's take: â€śIf you read between the lines, we're top-heavy with seniors and juniors who have a lot of experience and pretty good skills. If we can compliment those guys with hard work and a lot of discipline, there's no reason we shouldn't be at (Providence College, site of the state D-II finals) in March. I say that because I believe in what these kids can do. If we realize our full potential, I just don't see us not being there. That's the million-dollar question. How badly do they want to be there? How bad do they want it?â€ť
MOUNT ST. CHARLES
Head coach: Dave Belisle.
2011-12 results: Finished second in Division I-Cimini, 13-5-0 mark (Hendricken took first at 14-3-1); lost in thrilling championship series to Hendricken, two games to one; overall mark, 21-8-0.
Returning players: 13.
Key players: Brian Belisle, senior, captain, center; Dan Glod, senior, left wing; Tyler Scroggins, junior, right wing; Tom Crudele, junior, defense; Marc Squizzero, junior, defense; Brian Larence, junior, goalie; Patrick Holmes, sophomore, center; Devin Votta, junior, left wing; Vincent Pearl, senior, right wing; Michael Corrente, senior, defense; Keith Phaneuf, sophomore, defense.
Looking back: â€śWe were proud of kids last year,â€ť Belisle offered. â€śWe had two tough playoff series against La Salle and Hendricken, but we battled. I thought we overachieved, but I want to look ahead, not behind.â€ť
Outlook: Led by Brian Belisle, the coach's son and the division's leader in goals and assists, the Mounties will field a first line including Glod and Scroggins, with top defensemen including Crudele and Squizzero. The second-liners will be Holmes, Votta and Pearl, with Phaeuf and Corrente protecting Larence, who recorded a save percentage last winter of
Coach's take: â€śI'm excited about this group; it's one of the fastest teams we've had in years, and I think we want to get (the state title) back. We had won four in a row, then didn't last season, so I believe this is a hungry team that wants to get it back. We know it's a strong division, but we think we have the strength offensive and defensively to work toward that goal.â€ť
Head coach: Paul Nadeau.
2011-12 results: Finished sixth in Division II-North, 4-13-1.
Returning players: 17.
Key players: Erik Pelletier, senior, captain, goalie; Matt Prudhomme, senior, forward; Maxx Forti, senior, forward; Jordan Menard, senior, defense; Neil Skalubinski, senior, defense; Dylan Naradowy, junior, forward; Conor Dispirito, junior, defense; Riley Boucher, freshman, forward; Josh Labonte, freshman, defense.
Looking back: Nadeau couldnâ€™t say enough about Pelletier, who finished with 525 saves in 17 games, â€śwhich is a ton.â€ť The netminder closed the campaign with a .906 save percentage and 3.43 GAA, and was surrounded by a hefty number of juniors, now seniors. He did lose standout forward Tom Bourgeois to graduation.
Outlook: With so many returnees, Nadeau feels his squad can improve upon that 4-13-1 mark â€¦ â€śDepth is one of our strengths, while one of our weaknesses, I think, is trying to develop a winning attitude,â€ť he said. â€śWe need to finish games. Last season, we lost eight games by two goals or less, and I think itâ€™s because I pulled Erik a lot because weâ€™d be down a goal and wanted the extra man out there. Thatâ€™s why we gave up some two-goal losses; we gave up some empty-nettersâ€ť â€¦ He noted Skalubinski is about 6-4, so will intimidate opposing forwards, and that Naradowy led the Northmen in points with three goals and 12 assists (15 points); Prudhomme finished second (seven goals, seven assists), and Forti was next with eight tallies and five feeds â€¦ Nadeau is also hoping for some production from Boucher, a forward and the nephew of former MSC standout and Philadelphia Flyer goalkeeper Brian Boucher, and freshman defenseman Labonte. â€śBoucher has good size and poise for a freshman, and he seems eager to be out there playing varsity,â€ť Nadeau stated.
Coach's take: â€śI didnâ€™t think it was possible, but Erik actually is more focused this year than last. Heâ€™s one of the hardest workers on the team, and also extremely talented. He actually called me after our Injury Fund game against Pilgrim (a 4-3 loss on Saturday night). He wanted to ask me what he couldâ€™ve done better. Heâ€™s always seeking to improve â€¦ I think if the seniors take ownership of this team, and they let the underclassmen know what it takes to win, weâ€™ll be OK. Iâ€™m still changing around a couple of our lines and experimenting, but itâ€™s all going to come down to every player doing their job. They have to identify what each individual has to do, and then it becomes a team concept.â€ť
ST. RAPHAEL/PCD/WHEELER CO-OP
Head coach: Judson Moore.
2011-12 results: Took fourth in Division II-North, 8-6-4.
Returning players: 13.
Key players: Tyler Duffy, senior, tri-captain, defense; Matt Mollo, senior, tri-captain, defense; Ricky Vichroski, senior, tri-captain, wing; Tim Malo, senior, goalie; Tom Dudzik, junior, defense; Spencer Harrington, sophomore, defense; Mark Carrara, junior, center; Nathan Duffy, sophomore, wing; Justin Katz, sophomore, wing; Dylan Gastel, junior, wing; Josh Long, sophomore, forward; Aratym Hayda, sophomore, forward.
Looking back: Moore, in his first season at the helm, admittedly didn't know much about the 2010-11 Saints prior to their first practice on Monday, Nov. 19. In fact, that's the first time he saw them skate, but Moore â€“ who played for St. John's High in Shrewsbury, Mass. and later played club hockey at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa. â€“ liked what he saw.
Outlook: â€śI was impressed,â€ť he stated. â€śA lot of kids turned out and they were working hard. They listened, so I find them very coachable. The best way to describe it is they seemed hungry to learn.â€ť Malo will start in net ahead of junior backup Laurie Mazza; he played 145 minutes between the pipes and posted a 1.86 GAA and .900 save percentage. Moore believes his defense is SRA's main strength, as they're â€śbig, strong, fast and smart, and those are the characteristics that will carry us this year.â€ť The Saints have lost two of their top goal scorers, and both stellar
defensemen, but he has complete faith in Tyler Duffy, Mollo, Harrington and Dudzik. Offensively, he will look to Carrara, Nathan Duffy, Katz, Gastell and Vichroski. Of the latter, Moore noted, â€śRicky is a great kid, great athlete and great leader, but (on Wednesday), he broke his angle at practice. Hopefully, we'll have him back in about six weeks, but â€“ with him being a tri-captain and one of the true leaders of this team â€“ he'll be at practices and games, for sure. His leadership and voice will be heard.â€ť
Coach's take: â€śComing in new, I had a meeting with the team, and I talked about having three goals for them. First, I'm a teacher at Mount St. Charles, so I view coaching as teaching, so I want them to become better people, and to learn about themselves and how sports plays a role in who they are and can become. We're going to focus on professionalism, working as a team and character, both on and off the ice. Second, I want them to become better hockey players, not only in terms of the X's and O's but also the fundmentals â€“ skating, passing, shooting. And, third, is to win. I told them I believe if we get the first two down pat, the third should take care of itself. This sophomore class has some great skaters and skill players, so, up front, they're going to be asked to carry a large load this year.â€ť
Head coach: Steve Reynolds.
2011-12 results: Finished third in Division III, 12-4-0; earned playoff bid.
Returning players: 11.
Key players: Chris Baldwin, senior, tri-captain, defense; Kevin Tracey, senior, tri-captain, defense; Ryan Pedro, senior, defense; Teddy Reall, junior, right wing; Jared Pedro, junior, left wing; Brandon Speight, senior, center; Ryan Deighan, senior, right wing; Robert Lima, senior, left wing; Chris Wallace, junior, center; Jared DaSilva, senior, goalie; Jason Maynard, senior, right wing; Richie Marshall, junior, wing.
Looking back: The Tigers lost Cody Casavant â€“ whom Reynolds called, in his opinion, the premier player in II-North â€“ to graduation. â€śHe was a special player with a gift for putting the puck in the back of the net,â€ť he said. â€śWe had strong goaltending, and I see last year's team in this year's.â€ť Outlook: Reynolds indicated he'll start senior Jared DaSilva between the pipes â€śbecause he's been in the program and come a long way. Jared was a backup behind Stephane Meunier (who graduated), but he's more than a capable keeper. I'm confident in his abilities. The core of the team is back, so I'm excited about seeing how they mesh.â€ť He mentioned he will â€śroll outâ€ť Baldwin, Tracey and Ryan Pedro in front of DaSilva, while Reall and Jared Pedro will return as two members of his first line, which will include Speight. As for the second, that will be Deighan, Lima and Wallace.
Coach's take: â€śWe have a couple of first-year players who hopefully can make an impact with us. Richie Marshall is still learning the game, but he's an athlete, and Jared, this is his first year. With the number of bodies we have, those guys are more than welcome â€¦ Our goals never change; theyâ€™re always to make the playoffs. Once we're there, if we're there, anything can happen. I've also know they've got to work hard, believe in themselves and, most of all, stay healthy.â€ť
Head coach: Nate Arruda.
2011-12 results: Took ninth (last) in Division III, 1-15-0.
Key players: Ian Provencal, senior, goalie; Scott Tucker, senior, defense.
Outlook: With 20 players in the fold, Woonsocket hopes to major a step forward this winter after winning just two games over the past two seasons.