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Big weekend ahead for Burrillville

February 1, 2012

Junior Drew Buxton and his Burrillville High teammates face Bishop Hendricken and Moses Brown in back-to-back games this weekend. Photo by ERNEST A. BROWN

If Burrillville wants to remain in the top four of the Division I’s power standings and play for the new Championship Division crown next month, then this weekend is the one that could make or break the Broncos’ chances.
The Broncos, who are 8-4 and occupy fourth place in the division’s 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 ‘Final Four’ berth.
“We’re looking forward to this weekend,” said Burrillville coach Steve Daigle. “All week long, we’ve been telling the boys that this is a weekend where you want to play hockey because we’ve been playing very well. We’re 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.”
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 they’ve turned their act around since then and are the division’s only team to not lose a game in the 2012 portion of the schedule.
“We’ve won eight of our 10 games against the public schools this year, some of them by pretty good scores,” noted Daigle, “but now we’re off to the next challenge, and that’s 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.
“But if we’re going to beat one of those teams, we need our boys to play really well. We need to get the ‘A’ game out of them. We need a top-notch performance from our goalie. And we need the breaks.”
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.
“I would say he’s the best goalie in the state,” remarked Daigle. “Sometimes 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.”
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 captain’s 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 Broncos’ top defensemen.
“I’ve coached teams where the seniors didn’t have that urgency that it was their last year of high school hockey, but the seniors on this team have it,” admitted Daigle. “They want to go out being remembered.”
If the Broncos are unable to cling to a top-four spot, then it won’t be the end of the world because there’s 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.
“Our team knows that they have something to play for at the end of this season,” offered Daigle. “And it’s 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, they’d start losing their focus because there wasn’t really anything to play for. There wasn’t anything at the end of the tunnel.”
But before his players can look toward March, there’s 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.
“Like I said, we’re going to need to really play well and catch some breaks,” said Daigle. “When 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.”
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.
“This weekend, to me, is going to show us where we’re at,” said Daigle. “And that’s why we’re looking forward to it. The kids are working hard and playing well, they’re working the systems that we’re teaching them to the best of their ability, and they’re playing a lot more disciplined hockey. Whatever happens this weekend, we’re looking forward to it.”

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