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If Burrillville wants to remain in the top four of the Division Iâs power standings and play for the new Championship Division crown next month, then this weekend is the one that could make or break the Broncosâ chances.
The Broncos, who are 8-4 and occupy fourth place in the divisionâs overall standings, are facing their toughest two-day stretch of the season in the form of a Friday 9:30 p.m. clash at Thayer Arena against first-place Bishop Hendricken (10-1-1) and a Saturday 8:30 p.m. battle in the friendly confines of Levy Arena against Moses Brown (6-5-1).
The Broncos enter this weekend with a seven-game win streak against their public-school opponents, but more importantly, they skate into it with a surge of confidence and a quiet determination to celebrate the 75th anniversary of their team with a âFinal Fourâ berth.
âWeâre looking forward to this weekend,â said Burrillville coach Steve Daigle. âAll week long, weâve been telling the boys that this is a weekend where you want to play hockey because weâve been playing very well. Weâre not supposed to beat (Hendricken or Moses Brown), but I think if they give it their best effort, we have a chance to get a big win.â
Of course, defeating one of the private schools is easier said than done, because since the RIIL merged the parochial and top public schools together in a 10-team league last year, the publics have not been able to defeat the parochials. There have been two ties (Lincoln vs. La Salle last season and Smithfield vs. Moses Brown on Dec. 5), but nothing else.
Earlier in the season, the Broncos lost four of their first five games, including 5-1 defeats to Mount St. Charles (6-5) and second-place La Salle (8-3-1), but theyâve turned their act around since then and are the divisionâs only team to not lose a game in the 2012 portion of the schedule.
âWeâve won eight of our 10 games against the public schools this year, some of them by pretty good scores,â noted Daigle, âbut now weâre off to the next challenge, and thatâs to beat a private school. And the timing I think is perfect for us, especially with the way our boys have been working hard and playing together as a group.
âBut if weâre going to beat one of those teams, we need our boys to play really well. We need to get the âAâ game out of them. We need a top-notch performance from our goalie. And we need the breaks.â
That goalie is senior Jacob Toback, who owns the fifth-best goals-against-average (2.33) and third-best save percentage (.927) among goaltenders with more than 300 minutes of action. He also has the second-most saves in a game this season with 62 that came in the loss to Mount in the opening weekend.
âI would say heâs the best goalie in the state,â remarked Daigle. âSometimes a goalie can win a big game for you, and when you have a blue-chip goalie like that, it makes a big difference. You need that type of goalie to even think you have a shot of maybe beating one of the private schools.â
Toback is one of seven battle-tested seniors on the team who have experienced the good from this season with the bad in past winters, such as a dismal 2-15-1 last-place finish as sophomores and an 8-10 mark last winter (8-2 against the public schools) that soon led to a swift opening-round exit from the playoffs.
Another one of those seniors, center Andrew Etheridge, is tied for fifth in the division in scoring with nine goals and as many assists, and he shares the captainâs duties with left wing Pat Callanan. Brandon Gaucher and Zachary Keach have also added some offensive punch, and Glen St. Pierre and Jacob Dumahel are two of the Broncosâ top defensemen.
âIâve coached teams where the seniors didnât have that urgency that it was their last year of high school hockey, but the seniors on this team have it,â admitted Daigle. âThey want to go out being remembered.â
If the Broncos are unable to cling to a top-four spot, then it wonât be the end of the world because thereâs always the regular Division I title they can play for. The four teams that finish fifth through eighth in the standings will compete for this crown, and the Broncos, with their eight wins, are pretty much a lock to not finish lower than eighth.
âOur team knows that they have something to play for at the end of this season,â offered Daigle. âAnd itâs made a big difference in our players staying focused on the season and their discipline on and off the ice. The last two years in February, theyâd start losing their focus because there wasnât really anything to play for. There wasnât anything at the end of the tunnel.â
But before his players can look toward March, thereâs the task at hand this weekend and the pursuit to beat a private-school team for the first time since 2007, when the Broncos beat Moses Brown in a crossover game during the regular season en route to winning the Division I-A championship.
âLike I said, weâre going to need to really play well and catch some breaks,â said Daigle. âWhen we played La Salle (two weekends ago in the Burrillville Education Foundation Tournament), we hit the post about three or four times, and that could have made a big difference. We lost 2-0, but it was a 1-0 game going into the third period, and with shots that hit the post, they can just as well go in as they can miss.â
Regardless of what happens this weekend, the Broncos will know where they stand with the parochial heavyweights, and that could mean the right to face off with them for the state championship or contest the next group of teams in the Division I title.
âThis weekend, to me, is going to show us where weâre at,â said Daigle. âAnd thatâs why weâre looking forward to it. The kids are working hard and playing well, theyâre working the systems that weâre teaching them to the best of their ability, and theyâre playing a lot more disciplined hockey. Whatever happens this weekend, weâre looking forward to it.â