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WOONSOCKET â€” Before taking the head coaching position this season at Mount St. Charles Academy, Steve Shea served as the teamâ€™s assistant the previous four years.
In his five years involved with the girlsâ€™ hockey program, two things have remained unchanged. The Mounties are still one of the most dominant teams in the league and fierce rival Bay View Academy is right there along with them.
Beginning Wednesday night at Providence Collegeâ€™s Schneider Arena, the two schools that have combined to win all of the eight state crowns since the leagueâ€™s inception in 2002-03 will be back on the ice again when the Mounties and Bengals face off in Game 1 in the best-of-three Division I championship finals.
â€śItâ€™s my first time as head coach so it feels a little different, but itâ€™s excitingâ€ť Shea said. â€śWe had a great couple of practices yesterday and today and I think we are ready.â€ť
In one of the more competitive seasons to date as far as overall talent, the defending state titlist Mounties finished atop the league standings this season with a 15-1 mark. Mount suffered its lone setback to Burrillville/Ponaganset co-op, a squad that tied Bay View for the runner-up spot at 13-3.
After earning a bye in the playoffs, MSC endured a tight semifinal series with No. 5 seed North Smithfield (8-8), surviving a 3-2 shootout win in their opener and a closer-than-it-appears 5-1 decision in the clincher last Friday.
â€śIn the second game we were leading 2-1 after two periods and had to kill 44 seconds off a penalty at the start of the (third) period that was probably the most important part of the game,â€ť Shea admitted. â€śIf we didnâ€™t kill it, it would have been, 2-2, and could have been a whole different game.â€ť
Shea doesnâ€™t expect it to get any easier when his Mounties collide with Bay View tonight. The Bengals, who swept Burrillville/Ponaganset in their semifinal series (with scores of 4-3, 3-0), lost their two league matchups with Mount this winter. Nonetheless, both times the outcome wasnâ€™t a sure thing until late in the third period.
Mount blanked Bay View, 2-0, on Dec. 11 and then outlasted its rival by a 3-2 nail-biter on Feb. 4.
â€śBoth games were very close,â€ť Shea said. â€śObviously neither was a blowout. We may have had a slight edge, but it wasnâ€™t by much.â€ť
Mountâ€™s offense has been one of its primary strengths. The Mounties led the league in goals scored with 86 in their 16 divisional contests. Bay View was tied with North Smithfield for fourth with 59.
The two teams were the best among their competition defensively, allowing less than a goal a game with just 13 pucks making it to the back of the net.
And that is where Shea feels the Bengals will be at their toughest, led by senior goalies Meg Colucci and Anastasia Procaccini and talented junior defensemen Beth Fogarty and Georgianna Gouin.
â€śTheir strength is on the defensive side,â€ť Shea said. â€ś(Colucci and Procaccini) are sort of the leaders of the team, but they have some strong forwards. We had two good games with them during the season. I am extremely impressed with the two competitive wins they had over Burrillville. Obviously they are playing very good right now.â€ť
The Mounties have a number of players that can make things difficult for the Bengals, especially offensively. Mount has four players that have 20 or more points with senior Caitlin Shea leading the way with 11 goals and 11 assists during the regular season. Sophomore Alisha Sleboda (10 goals, 11 assists), junior Sam Smith (eight goals, 13 assists) and senior Erin Rouleau (nine goals, 11 assists) comprise the remainder of the lethal quartet. The Mounties also have five other players with at least 10 points, including senior BriAnna Narodowy (four goals, nine assists)
â€śWe are balanced as far as scoring is concerned,â€ť Steve Shea said. â€śWe also have some very solid defenseman with (senior) Caitlin Bray, (junior) MaryKate Stimpson, (sophomore) Meredith Peppes and (junior) Lauren Deguire. Those four together are very solid.â€ť
In between the pipes, freshman Sara Erban and junior Ariana Beauregard have been a brick wall. In six league games, Erban has a goals-against-average (GAA) of .72. Beauregard has a GAA of .90 in 10 contests.
Shea believes one of the keys to a positive outcome is to apply constant pressure on the Bengalsâ€™ defense. Thatâ€™s what the Mount coach felt was the difference in their other two games this season.
â€śI think we were able to generate a little more offensive pressure,â€ť Shea said. â€śWe used our three lines. I think we were able to put a little more pressure on them. Thatâ€™s what we are going to try and do this time.â€ť
The face off for tonightâ€™s showdown is at 6 p.m.