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PROVIDENCE â€” Minutes after Mount St. Charles dropped a 5-2 decision to rival Hendricken High in a game that would have delivered to the Mounties their 43rd state title in school history, mentor Bill Belisle stood in a corner of his bench area accepting congratulations from folks of all ages.
When someone asked how proud he was of the players he and son Dave Belisle coach, the very images of Mount hockey since the mid-1970s, just smiled and nodded.
And, as the Hawks accepted their gold medals from Rhode Island Interscholastic League Director of Hockey George Egan after reigning in the rubber tilt of this R.I. Championship Division finals set, all skated first to Bill Belisle to give him a hug, then moved to the blue line to individually shake hands with Dave and his kids.
After a prolonged period of time in the locker room, the younger Belisle was asked what he told his players, who closed the season with an overall mark of 16-8 overall.
â€śItâ€™s private,â€ť he stated with a bittersweet grin. â€śAll I know is Iâ€™m as proud of this group as any Iâ€™ve ever coached. We just played in six excellent, exciting hockey games, and we split them, 3-3. Unfortunately, we lost this one, the one that counted.
â€śLike I said, Iâ€™m proud of the guys, my staff, my father and everyone at Mount St. Charles,â€ť he continued. â€śIâ€™m very proud to be a Mountie. Itâ€™s been a wild season. We came back with only four returning starters, and we built around them. We made it to the final game of this series. We beat La Salle in double-overtime (in the last contest of the semifinal series). We played at Fenway Park. Itâ€™s just been a terrific year.â€ť
Throughout this tilt, the Hawks exhibited just a bit more aggressiveness, ferocity and determination than the Mounties. They outshot MSC by a 25-21 count, and 10 of those occurred in the initial 7:46 of the first stanza.
Sophomore netminder Brian Larence looked superb in that time frame, turning back each and every Hendricken attempt. MSC also survived two penalties, including a five-on-three situation for 49 seconds midway through the session.
But, when Paul Filippone scored his first of two goals with 3:34 left in the first, the Hawks had grabbed a 1-0 lead.
The Mounties knotted the score just 49 ticks later, courtesy of sophomore forward Tim Allenâ€™s backhander off a rebound.
With 1:16 left, Hendricken junior forward Dave Mitchell broke that deadlock. He stole the puck just outside the MSC blue line, raced in and drove a wrist shot over Larenceâ€™s right shoulder. Just 1:31 into the second, Filippone scored again, and â€“ only 43 seconds after that â€“ senior tri-captain Justin Finan beat the goalie again for a 4-1 advantage.
The Mounties werenâ€™t quite the same the rest of the way, though Larence finished with 20 saves, one more than Hawksâ€™ goaltender Billy Palmer, who just happened to win the Rev. Robert C. Newbold Most Valuable Player accolade.
â€śThey created a lot of odd-man rushes by forcing us into mistakes,â€ť Dave Belisle noted. â€śWe turned the puck over at times, and they just finished their rushes. Their aggressiveness forced us into a lot of mistakes.â€ť
Still, in the third period, with Mount facing a 4-2 deficit, Hendricken made it interesting. First, with 7:28 remaining, officials whistled Samuel Boulanger for interference, and â€“ only 1:08 later â€“ they called Austin Navarro for holding. The two penalties gave the Mounties a five-on-three situation for 52 seconds, and a man advantage for 1:52, good for their fourth and fifth power plays.
The Hawks killed both.
Belisleâ€™s crew again had a shot to at least slice the deficit to one when Hendrickenâ€™s Finan was issued a cross-checking penalty at the 3:29 mark. Thirteen seconds earlier, Belisle had pulled Larence in favor of the six-on-five.
Following the penalty, he sent Larence back out into his cage, but the Mounties failed to push one past Palmer.
â€śWe just didnâ€™t do it,â€ť Dave Belisle explained. â€śThey played the five-on-three perfectly. They confused us, no doubt about it. I give all the credit to them. They just outplayed us in this one.
â€śSince 1988, I have never seen a playoff run like this one; Iâ€™ve been involved in so many exciting, thrilling series, but never anything like this,â€ť he added. â€śThe three games against La Salle, and then the last three here against Hendricken. They were so close, so gritty. Itâ€™s been a wild, exciting ride, and I want to thank our kids for that.â€ť