PROVIDENCE â€” After his squad's 4-0 loss to La Salle Academy in the first game of the R.I. Championship Division Tournament finals' best-of-three set on Saturday, Mount St. Charles head coach Steve Shea told his kids he loved the fact they had outshot their foes, 30-18.
He also explained to them that mere attempts on goal wouldn't be enough to dispatch the Rams, but firing more quality shots at senior goalkeeper Holly Scott could change the Mounties' fortune.
Shea's offense did just that on Sunday afternoon, rifling 22 tries at Scott and twice beating her to snare a 2-1 triumph over La Salle and even up the title series at one game apiece.
The decision created a winner-take-all scenario back here at Providence College's Schneider Arena at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, and â€“ should the Mounties reign â€“ they would secure their third consecutive state championship and eighth in the last 11 years.
â€śYou know, hockey's a strange game,â€ť Shea offered after the triumph, one that lifted MSC to 19-3 overall. â€śThe 4-0 loss wasn't indicative of that game. We wanted to emphasize not the amount of shots on net, but higher quality shots â€¦ We're a skating team, and we want to get the puck in deep, behind the offensive goal line, and then see what our options are from there.
â€śI thought we played very well,â€ť he added. â€śI also thought our goalie, (sophomore) Sarah Erban, played superbly, and our defensemen did a great job in front of her.â€ť
Shea credited senior quad-captains Lauren Deguire and Cassie Czarn, not to mention classmates MaryKate Stimpson and Kaitlyn Croke, for keeping the Rams off-balance for most of the tilt.
The Mounties didn't need much time to manufacture their first goal. Just 3:51 into the contest, sophomore Briana Castro scored on feeds from Croke and freshman Elisabeth Berard to give them a 1-0 lead.
Midway through the first period, officials whistled senior Lauren Levesque for an illegal body check, and â€“ with 5:38 remaining â€“ they called Czarn for high-sticking, giving La Salle a five-on-three advantage for 14 seconds and a power play for 1:46.
MSC foiled each of those opportunities, though the Rams' senior quad-captain Abigail Sorenson did feed freshman Michaela McNamara with a pretty pass in front of Erban. The netminder, though, made a stellar pad save to squelch the try.
Early in the second, freshman defenseman Amanda Blackmar looked to get La Salle on the board when she drilled a slap shot from just inside her blue line. It seemed to make its way through a scrum in front, but Erban pounced on it.
Not even four minutes after, with 8:49 remaining, Mounties' senior quad-captain Allison Shea poked a backhand at Scott from the slot, but the latter smothered the offering.
Scott, however, couldn't stop Berard at the 5:38 mark. The frosh skated out from behind the net and tucked the puck under Scott's left pad to boost MSC's cushion at 2-0.
Castro and Stimpson assisted on the tally.
Between periods, Coach Shea and his assistants provided the troops with a few words of wisdom.
â€śI told the girls that a 2-0 lead in hockey is the worst,â€ť Shea stated afterward. â€śWith a 1-0 lead, you still want to pressure the opponent, you want to get another goal, but â€“ at 2-0 â€“ the human tendency is to relax a little bit.
â€śJust call me an amateur psychologist,â€ť he added with a grin. â€śI told them that, down 2-0, La Salle would have nothing to lose. I said, 'They're going to come out blazing. They're going to throw everything they've got at you, so you're going to have to weather the storm.â€ť
Shea was right on both counts.
Twice in the first seven minutes of the third stanza, La Salle assembled solid opportunities to knot the game, though each failed. With 11:10 left, freshman forward Sarah Migliori looped around the net and the left circle and whacked a wrister at Erban. She made the save, but the puck squirted loose, and her defense tucked the puck back under her left pad.
And, 2:18 later, McNamara ripped a wrist shot at goalie Sarah Erban from the high slot, and the goalie turned it away with her blocker.
But when Stimpson was called for a cross-check infraction with 8:06 remaining, the Rams immediately took advantage of its third power play. Just 22 seconds into the girl advantage, freshmen Meaghan Rickard and Cailin Rickard fed a streaking Migliori down the right boards, and she went top shelf for the tally that cut it to 2-1.
From that point on, the contest became a free-for-all, both squads racing up and down ice to create chances. With 2:16 left, MSC junior forward Alisha Sleboda whacked a backhand from point-blank range at Scott, but she sprawled for the save. At the 1:12 mark, Rickard whistled a high wrister from between the circles at Erban, but the goalie secured it to her midsection.
â€śThat girl from La Salle (Migliori) took a beautiful shot at Sarah, and she couldn't stop it,â€ť Shea shrugged. â€śThat third was a great period of hockey. Both teams were hustling, flying to the puck, but I still thought getting that first goal was huge.
â€śWhenever you have two determined teams in a dogfight, and two of the best goalies in the state facing each other, scoring first is so important â€“ especially because they shut us out (Saturday) night. I still say the second period is what won it for us. I thought we were dominant.â€ť
Ironically, in that stanza, La Salle (16-5 overall) mustered the most shots on goal, nine, than any other period.
To their credit, both Erban and Scott finished with 20 saves.
When asked the key to Mount registering its third consecutive crown, Shea didn't hesitate.
â€śWe have to keep the momentum high; we have to re-establish what we did in the second period (Sunday),â€ť he said. â€śWe have to control the puck, dish it behind the goal line and utilize good forechecking. When we do that, we can get high-quality shots on net in a short period of time. Keeping the pressure on is critical.â€ť