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There are three things that are certain in life -- death, taxes, and Mount St. Charles going down to the wire with Bishop Hendricken and La Salle in the battle for the Division I state championship.
That being said, expect much of the same from the three parochial schools this winter -- a long tooth-and-nail duel that will begin tonight and end in the finals sometime in mid-March at Brown University.
â€śItâ€™s going to be competitive again between us and (them),â€ť added Mount coach Dave Belisle, who will again be behind the bench with his father, the legendary Bill Belisle. â€śI would sense weâ€™re all pretty equal. I donâ€™t know that much about them, but weâ€™ll find out this weekend because we open up with them.â€ť
The Mounties, who will host Hendricken tonight at 9 p.m. at Adelard Arena and visit La Salle tomorrow at 8 at Thayer Arena, won the 43rd state title (and fifth in the last six years) in the programâ€™s storied history last winter, and they will look to defend their championship despite losing the services of their top three scorers and a few solid defensemen during the offseason.
Defense figures to be a strongpoint for the Mounties, especially since they return two Second-Team All-Staters in senior goaltender Brian Larence, who was among the stateâ€™s leaders in goals-against-average (1.94) and save percentage (.930), and hard-hitting junior defenseman Keith Phaneuf, who added some offensive punch with eight goals and seven assists.
Larence will share the captainâ€™s duties with senior defenseman Marc Squzzero, who is also coming off an excellent season, and first-year senior Justin Trindade, who played junior hockey in the past, is a valuable addition to the team. One of the Mountiesâ€™ top freshmen, 6-foot-1 Tim Casilli, also adds some talent to the blue line.
On offense, senior Tom Crudele, who was a defenseman a season ago, moves to the first line and is joined by senior Devin Votta and junior Pat Holmes, who was tied for fourth on the team in goals scored with nine. The second line, which came up big in last weekendâ€™s 3-1 Injury Fund victory over Coventry, features junior center Justin Dâ€™Abrosca, senior Ryan Badeau, and junior Kevin Valentine.
While Mount hopes to make its presence felt again in the Division I-Cimini ranks, Burrillville hopes to do likewise in the divisionâ€™s Eccleston circuit, which again features public school rivals Barrington, Smithfield, and Coventry, as well as the new-look Cranston West/Cranston East co-op team.
Last year, the Broncos won just four games and tied three, yet caught fire at the end of the season to reach the Division I non-state finals, where they lost to Barrington. With a lot of key players returning, the Broncos are hoping for better results this winter.
For starters, senior goalie Kyle Wilkinson, who had some big games down the stretch, is back, as well as junior forward Chad Stone, who led the team in scoring with 13 goals and 11 assists, and sophomore Tyler Kearney, who was right behind Stone with nine goals and eight assists.
Three other forwards -- senior Zach Bertholic, junior Tom Libby, and sophomore Riley Tupper -- return, as does senior defenseman Tyler Gautreau and junior blue-liners Ben Robinson and Nicholas Koprusak.
Last season was one for the ages for Lincoln, which returned to the Division II ranks (after spending the last six in Division I and I-A) in style by going undefeated (23-0-1) and capturing its first state title since 2006.
The Lions did this with a veteran group that saw seven of their 22 players graduate (including their top three scorers), and this year, they will try to defend their crown with one of their smallest rosters in seasons (18), but one with eight seniors leading the charge.
Forward Griffin Hevey (8 goals, 15 assists) and defenseman Tyler Duquette (4 goals, 19 assists) are two of the top returnees, and the junior 1-2 netminding punch of David Jessey and Chris Leclaire are back after teaming up to allow just 33 goals in 24 games.
Senior forward Mike Enos, senior defenseman Joshua Hayes, junior defenseman Matt Carmichael, and sophomore forward Ben Hevner are four more Lions to watch for this season.
For the eighth straight season, Cumberland posted 10 or more victories during the regular season and gave a strong showing in the postseason, and this winter, with several top contributors back, the Clippers are again expected to compete with Lincoln and North Smithfield for the Division II-North title.
Junior goaltender Leo Lake prospered in his first season as a starter, netting a 1.91 GAA and .928 save percentage, and senior defenseman Jamie Casilli established himself as one of the best in the league at his position.
Sophomore Jake Salisbury is also back after a fantastic freshman campaign (16 goals, 8 assists), junior Greg Wellington was solid with seven goals and a dozen helpers, and senior defenseman Joshua Santoro and junior forward John Wainwright also add some valuable experience.
North Smithfield also enjoyed a fine season last winter, going 11-7 during the regular season and coming an eyelash away from advancing to the Division II semifinals. With a strong group of players coming back, the Northmen are vying for bigger and better things.
Senior center Dylan Naradowy, who led the Northmen with 12 goals and 15 assists last season, is expected to be back with the team after helping the N.S. football team reach the Division IV semifinals, and sophomore Riley Boucher, like Salisbury, will be looking to improve on a splendid freshman year (8 goals, 14 assists).
The Northmenâ€™s other three seniors are Ian Bissonnette, Matt Christie, William Degnan, and goaltender Mark Pasquariello is one of their top juniors. Nearly half their roster is made up of sophomores, such as forward Noah Menard and defenseman Josh Labonte.
Only seven teams make up the Division III circuit, including Woonsocket, which won just once last season, but could wind up becoming the leagueâ€™s most improved team behind a cast that features several seniors and standout sophomore goalie Nick Beals leading the way.
Seniors Chance Boucher, Devin Fortier, and Jonathan Flynn were three of the Novansâ€™ top skaters last winter, and in Woonsocketâ€™s Injury Fund victory over Warwick Vets last weekend, Boucher, Fortier, and another senior, Marques Gonzalez, had big games offensively.
Austin Forget, Anthony Jordao, Alec Allaire, and Kyle Archambault are four newcomers that promise to be welcome additions for the Novans.