BURRILLVILLE --- Burrillville knows the best way it can celebrate the 75th anniversary of its teamâ€™s existence â€“ by capturing the Division I-Eccleston regular-season crown and earning a berth in the new Championship Division tournament format.
And with their season reaching its midway point, the Broncos could be well on their way to accomplishing both feats.
Entering this weekend, the Broncos resided atop the Eccleston ranks with a 6-4 mark that includes a five-game win streak and a 6-2 mark against their public-school peers.
The Broncosâ€™ 6-4 record is currently good for third place in the Division Iâ€™s new power-ranking system, which at the conclusion of the season, will ship the top four finishers into the Championship Division tournament and the next four in the Division I playoffs.
On Friday night, the Broncos took a break from their Division I schedule to skate in their Burrillville Education Foundation Tournament with league rival La Salle and Division III squads East Providence and Cranston East at Levy Arena.
The Townies were their opening-round opponent, and while most fans on hand expected the Broncos to make quick work of E.P., it was the Red and White who found themselves with a surprising 2-1 lead after a period of play.
But the Broncos, thanks to senior co-captain Andrew Etheridgeâ€™s four-goal night, erupted for five goals in each of the next two periods and skated to a convincing 11-2 victory.
The Broncos will battle La Salle, which knocked off the Thunderbolts in the other game, in todayâ€™s 4 p.m. championship duel (weather permitting) back at Levy. The Townies and the Thunderbolts will play in a noon consolation game.
The Rams posted a 5-1 victory over the Broncos in their Dec. 17 regular-season meeting at Levy, and Burrillville coach Steve Daigle is excited about the rematch.
â€śThe La Salle game should be real interesting,â€ť he added. â€śThat game and our upcoming games with Hendricken [Feb. 3] and Moses Brown [Feb. 4] should show us where weâ€™re at as far as if we belong (near the top of the league) or not. But the kids have really come together and theyâ€™re playing some really good hockey right now.â€ť
â€śWhen we played (La Salle) the last time, there was a stretch where they got three quick goals,â€ť recalled Etheridge. â€śI think if we would have tightened it up on defense, it would have been a much closer game.â€ť
This year, the Broncos boast a veteran squad that took its bumps in the Division I circuit over the last two seasons, winning just twice in the 2009-10 season and going 8-10 a year ago, but claiming the Division Iâ€™s unofficial â€śpublic-school championshipâ€ť by posting an 8-2 mark against their non-parochial peers.
â€śThe last two years, our guys basically didnâ€™t have too much to play for,â€ť added Daigle. â€śYouâ€™re playing for pride, but that can only go so far. But with the new setup this season, one way or the other, these kids are going to have something to play for, and because of that, thereâ€™s been a much better attitude in the kids.â€ť
The Broncos have been led for most of the season by the play of senior goaltender Jacob Toback, who turned in a remarkable 62-save effort in his teamâ€™s season-opening 5-1 loss to Mount St. Charles, and their excellent first line of Etheridge at center and junior Drew Buxton and freshman Chad Stone at the wings.
â€śOur line has been playing with each other all year and weâ€™re starting to get used to each other,â€ť remarked Etheridge. â€śWeâ€™ve been doing really well and we really did a good job today.â€ť
Etheridge entered the weekend tied for second in the division in scoring with 16 points (nine goals, seven assists), and junior center Evan Lafond (seven goals, three assists) and junior defenseman Blake Boutiette (nine assists) have also filled the scorerâ€™s sheet early and often this year.
Senior left wing and co-captain Pat Callanan, senior defenseman Glen St. Pierre, and junior defenseman Mitchell Lafond have had solid seasons as well for the Broncos.
â€śThis team seems to keep moving forward,â€ť said Daigle. â€śTheyâ€™re scoring goals, theyâ€™re doing well defensively, theyâ€™re getting good leadership, and theyâ€™re playing our system the way we want them to play them.â€ť
Unfortunately for the Broncos, they didnâ€™t resemble a team moving forward in their win over the Townies, who copped their 2-1 lead on goals by Ryan Costa 1:13 into the game and Troy Derrick with 2:17 to play in the first period.
â€śI kind of warned the guys that teams like E.P. get up for games like this,â€ť said Daigle. â€śI give E.P. a lot of credit; they had me nervous. Their coach was afraid of us running it up on them before the game started, but we were the ones that had to fight back after the first period.â€ť
But the Broncos took the lead for good when they scored on their first two shots early in the second period. Buxton and Etheridge netted goals 32 seconds apart from each other, and the Broncos were off and running.
In additionâ€™s to Etheridgeâ€™s excellent night, which included a pair of assists, Stone added two goals and three assists, Buxton had two goals and as many helpers, and Evan Lafond and sophomore wing Zach Bertholic netted the other goals. The Broncos also ended the night outshooting the Townies, 57-18.