WOONSOCKET â€” For the back half of the past decade, Mount St. Charles vs. Bishop Hendricken in the Division I championship series has been an epic showdown thatâ€™s been well worth the price of admission.
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Who couldnâ€™t forget the 2007 series that saw the Hawks win in three games and squeak out a 1-0 triumph in the rubber game? Or the â€™09 classic that saw the Mounties sweep the series with an overtime victory in Game 1, followed by a heart-pounding, triple-overtime win in Game 2?
This weekend, the Mounties and Hawks will collide for the championship for the fifth time in the past six seasons at Providence Collegeâ€™s Schneider Arena, and this edition of their rivalry promises to be as entertaining and competitive as the ones from years past.
The top-seeded Mounties (20-1-1) will seek their fourth straight title and 42nd in their storied history, while the second-seeded Hawks (18-3-1), who are 2-15 all-time in Division I title series, will try to bring home the coveted prize.
The best-of-three series gets under way on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and continues the following night at the same time. If a third and deciding game is needed, it will take place on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
The Mounties returned to practice on Monday following their exciting sweep of fourth-seeded La Salle Academy in the semifinal round. They won both games in overtime to extend their postseason win streak to 16 games, six of which were decided in OT.
â€śThis is going to be another great series,â€ť admitted MSC coach Dave Belisle. â€ś(Hendricken) is playing great hockey at the right time, so I expect pretty much what you saw (in the semifinal-round series) with La Salle, just another great series for the state championship.â€ť
The Mounties seized both ends of their regular-season series with the Hawks, but both wins were two-goal thrillers, a 4-2 win on Dec. 18 at Thayer Arena, followed by a 2-1 victory on Jan. 14 at Adelard.
The Hawks, like the Mounties, can score in bunches. Junior Robert Buehrer (26 goals, 20 assists) leads a balanced scoring attack that also features two excellent underclassmen in sophomores Paul Filippone and Dave Mitchell (19 goals each) and senior co-captain Jeff Giusti.
Buehrer erupted for five goals in the Hawksâ€™ semifinal-round sweep of third-seeded Moses Brown, which saw them win the series by 5-2 and 2-1 scores.
And defensively, they are also among the best in the state. Senior co-captain John McCarthy is the teamâ€™s top defenseman and sophomore William Palmer has enjoyed a superb rookie season.
â€śTheyâ€™re another well-coached team,â€ť admitted Belisle. â€śTheyâ€™re big, theyâ€™re strong, and theyâ€™re fast, so everything you expect a finalist to be, they possess it.â€ť
If youâ€™re looking for a big difference between the two squads, all you need to do is look at their rosters. The Mounties boast a dozen battle-tested seniors, with eight of their taking regular shifts, while the Hawks have just three, but large junior and sophomore classes.
â€śWeâ€™re in great shape,â€ť noted Belisle. â€śWeâ€™re a veteran team and our players are well-tuned. We have 17- and 18-year-olds on our team, so that makes a difference. Iâ€™ve been blessed with great leadership this year. A lot of my job is teaching, but when you have seniors, theyâ€™re doing some teaching too.â€ť
Leading the Mountiesâ€™ senior class has been their co-captains, Trevor Plante and Zach Samborsky, who along with playoff hero Mike Magerman and Alex Erban, have teamed up to score more than 100 goals this season.
â€śWe just have to keep on doing what we do best, and thatâ€™s go to the net and create some opportunities, and weâ€™ll get some goals,â€ť offered Belisle. â€śWeâ€™ll get our goals if we continue to penetrate the defense, because we can put the puck in the net.â€ť
The Mounties havenâ€™t had any problems lighting the lamp in the playoffs (18 goals in four games), but theyâ€™ve had some other issues that hindered them in the series with La Salle. Staying out of the penalty box has been one of them, and an inability to eliminate odd-man rushes has been a big concern.
â€śWe need to eliminate odd-man rushes, because they have some players who can put the puck in the net,â€ť admitted Belisle. â€śAgainst La Salle, we gave up too many odd-man rushes. I think weâ€™ll work on that and try to keep those 2-on-1s to a minimum.
â€śI know weâ€™re pressing and pressing, but we have to be conscious of getting back, so we have to do that. If we can stick with our gameplan, establish our forecheck, and watch out for the odd-man rush, weâ€™ll have a good chance.â€ť
Another concern for the Mounties is getting off to a better start than they did in both games with the Rams. They fell behind 2-0 in the first period of each game, but found a way to battle back and win.
â€śWe canâ€™t keep falling behind because itâ€™s going to catch up to us,â€ť remarked Belisle. â€śI know we can battle back from adversity, but we need to go out, establish that first goal, and give ourselves a little breather. And if we canâ€™t get that first goal, at least get the second one, because two goals down against any opponent, thatâ€™s tough to catch up to.â€ť