Mount St. Charles Academy head coach Bill Belisle and senior co-captains Ben Handanyan (left) and Brian Campbell (right) have their sights set on championship glory in this weekendâs best-of-three title series against Bishop Hendricken at Providence Collegeâs Schneider Arena. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
WOONSOCKET --- This year has been a tale of two seasons for Mount St. Charles.
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The first season was not a very good one by the programâs standards. Back-to-back losses to La Salle in early December and a 3-4 record in January did not sit well with the teamâs loyal fan base, even though Mount was entering the season with one of its youngest teams in several seasons.
The second season was what youâd expect from your typical Mount team. Victories in 10 of its last 11 games and a seven-game win streak to finish the regular season and give Mount the second seed in the State Championship playoffs.
This year has certainly been a tale of two seasons, but the Mounties and their fans are hoping that this year end up like the last four â with a state title.
The Mounties will try to end their season-long âdrive for fiveâ with âBanner 43â when the best-of-three finals kick off at Providence Collegeâs Schneider Arena this weekend against regular-season champ and parochial rival Bishop Hendricken.
The Hawks, who are making their sixth trip to PC in the last seven seasons, will seek their first banner since they won back-to-back crowns in 2006 and â07.
They were swept in the finals by the Mounties in 2008, â09, and last season, and they will certainly be out to make sure that history doesnât repeat itself this time around.
The series opener is tonight at 7:30 p.m., and the second game is tomorrow at the same time. A third and deciding game, if it is needed, will be on Monday, also at 7:30 p.m.
And if any of these games go into overtime, you have to love the Mountiesâ chances. In the last five years, they own an 8-0 mark in postseason overtime games, including last weekendâs Game 2 and 3 semifinal-round victories over the Rams, as well as their two wins over the Hawks in the â09 title series.
âThatâs pretty amazing,â noted MSC coach Dave Belisle when the record was brought up. âWeâve been in some fantastic games like those over the past years, and most of those [overtime] games were won when the kids were 4-on-4, and they just seemed to make plays when the ice is open.â
Belisle talked about the past, the present, and this weekendâs championship games with the Hawks on the eve of tonightâs series opener, and the veteran coach had a touch of excitement in his voice when he talked about what promises to be another memorable weekend in Providence with Hendricken.
âWeâre getting ready for another very good series with them,â he exclaimed. â(Hendricken) is pretty deep. They have three good forward lines and couple of sets of good defensemen, and theyâre big and they have some speed.
âWeâre going to have to establish the forecheck, but at the same time, we cant give up odd-man rushes to this team, because they have some boys who can put the puck in the net. And weâre going to have to worry about how we play in our own end, how we break out, how we defend.â
Two months ago, not many folks could have envisioned the Mounties playing for a state title, especially after their 3-4 start that included multiple losses to the Rams and Hawks.
âWe had a very inexperienced team,â said Belisle, who had graduated one of the best senior classes in recent seasons. âThe other two top teams brought a lot of players back, so itâs taken us some time to catch up, but we have, and the boys are playing their best hockey at the right time of the season.â
While the Mounties were slowly, but surely, shaking off their youth and inexperience, they also added a key player to their attack in senior defenseman Nick Bennett, who returned to Mount after a year of prep school and joined the team in mid-January.
âWe only lost one regular-season game with him,â Belisle said of Bennett, a physical presence who also provides excellent defense and a touch of scoring, âHe makes a big difference back there, and he brings another element that we didnt have before.â
The Mounties also saw a handful of juniors and sophomores come up big this season, but no player had a breakout season like junior center Brian Belisle, Daveâs son.
After scoring four goals and adding 13 assists last year, the Cumberland resident ended up leading all of Division I with 18 goals and 22 assists.
âHe really worked hard to improve over the summer and established himself as one of the top players,â added the Mount coach. âWe scored 83 goals during the regular season and he had a hand in 40 of them, so heâs done really well and heâs been a good leader for us as well.â
Several other players had also had very big seasons, such as the usual suspects in Mountâs senior co-captains, forward Brian Campbell (14-17-31) and defenseman Ben Handanyan (5-13-18), and another 12th grade forward, Ryan Berard (7-13-20).
Sophomore standouts Brandon Borges (11-16-27) and Tyler Scroggins have also come of age this year, and sophomore goalie Brian Larence has thrived in his first season as a starter.
The Mount coach also reported that his team is heading into the finals a very healthy bunch. They did suffer one significant injury in Mondayâs Game 3 with La Salle when veteran head coach Bill Belisle got accidentally hit in the head with a hockey stick during a celebration on the bench. He went to the hospital immediately after the game, and after sitting out Tuesday afternoonâ practice, he was back to work on Wednesday and Thursday.
âHe only needed eight stitches above the temple,â reported Dave Belisle. âHe got a cat scan done and it was negative, but heâs been back at practice. Heâs a warrior, and heâs looking forward to this series.â