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Itâs been 10Â˝ months since the high school hockey scene last heard from Britney Evangelista, but the last time she made news on the ice, it reverberated around and beyond the state.
It was last Feb. 25, a Saturday night at the Rhode Island Sports Center, in the second game of a best-of-three semifinal-round series against the Burrillville/Ponaganset co-op team, that Evangelista, then a sophomore goaltender for North Smithfield, turned in a performance that raised eyebrows and dropped jaws.
With her team down 1-0 and facing elimination to a veteran Broncos team with more depth and offensive firepower than the Northmen, Evangelista put her team on her shoulders by stopping 88 shots in a 2-1 victory that was decided by a shootout.
Yes, thatâs right, Evangelista turned away 88 shots. The Northmen ended up taking only 21. She totaled 26 saves in the two 7 1/2 overtime periods, which equates to a normal night for a netminder in your average high school game.
Unfortunately for the Northmen, the magic and momentum from that night wore off in the third and deciding game two days later, for despite 41 saves from Evangelista, the Broncos were able to skate away with a 4-0 win and a spot in the Division II finals opposite Barrington.
A lot has changed for the Northmen and Evangelista since that loss. For the Northmen, a full decade as a full team came to an end. The numbers game caught up with them â on a good night, they dressed only 13 players â and now 10 players from the school are part of a co-op unit with neighboring Smithfield.
As for Evangelista, the news she received during the season that the program was going to be no longer forced her to start looking elsewhere around the state for a team where she could continue her high school career.
She found the perfect match in Bay View Academy, which was not only a team that was going to need a goaltender the following season, but also a school that was going to offer her a chance to try out two new sports and a strong academics program.
As for the two new sports, Evangelista has already seen action in both of them. After transferring to the all-girls East Providence private school on March 12, she picked up lacrosse and tried her hand as a backup goalie for the Bengals, and this past fall, she was a forward for the field hockey team that earned a spot in the Division I quarterfinals.
But as for ice hockey, Evangelista has had to play the waiting game and sit out the Bengalsâ first nine games due to the R.I. Interscholastic Leagueâs transfer rules, which states that students are ineligible for half of a regular season when switching schools.
Talking hockey before a Wednesday afternoon practice at the Cranston Vets Arena, Evangelista voiced her displeasure at the nine-game layoff, especially since she played every minute of every game the previous season with the Northmen and can now only count down the days until she sees her first second of action with the Bengals.
Watching the Bengals struggle out of the gates â entering Saturday in last place in the five-team Emma Division with a 0-6-1 mark and the second-most goals allowed (58) in the 10-team state â and not being able to do anything to help them turn things around has been very frustrating for Evangelista.
Not getting an opportunity to play a full 17-game regular season for Bay View, especially since she was told during last season by North Smithfield High athletic director Matthew Tek that the program was folding, has equally made her boil over in anger.
âBay View didnât recruit me,â she said. âI left (the school) because my athletic director told me there probably wasnât going to be a hockey team. There were no signs of (the team) combining with any other schools, and he said, âIf thereâs not going to be a team, youâre going to have to play for the boysâ team.â I wanted to continue my high school career, so I had to look at other schools.â
Evangelista eventually transferred to Bay View, only to find out months later that North Smithfield was indeed going to form a co-op team with Smithfield. She had hoped to present her case at a meeting with RIIL executive director Tom Mezzanotte, explaining her situation and the turn of events that led to her transfer, but the meeting never took place.
âI was just trying to better myself, and I understand why the rules are in place,â added Evangelista. âBut we had reason and proof that I didnât get recruited, so that should have been an exception to the rule to let me play.â
So now she sits and wait until Monday, Jan. 21, when at 10 a.m. sharp, she will finally make her Bay View debut in her teamâs 10th game of the season against the East Bay co-op team (made up of players from Barrington, Mount Hope, and Portsmouth) at Portsmouth Abbeyâs rink.
Or better yet, Evangelista stands and wait until Monday, Jan. 21. Sheâs still able to practice with her team, but come game day, sheâs standing on the bench in street clothes and a hockey helmet (required for all players on the bench whether they play or not) next to her coaches.
âItâs killing me,â she said. âI practice every day and I basically feel like Iâm a coach. I canât wait to finally play.â
âWeâre very excited to have her back,â added Bay View assistant coach Kelly Souza. âSheâs a great kid, and the way sheâs handled her situation has been unbelievable. Sheâs done everything she can to support her team and help in any way possible.â
While talking about the past 10 months at Bay View, Evangelista also spoke of her time at North Smithfield, her two years with the Northmen, and yes, that wonderful 88-save night.
Actually, a year earlier, and almost to the day, Evangelista had another huge game in the opening game in the best-of-three semifinal round of the playoffs, this one against eventual two-time state champion Mount St. Charles.
In that game, she stopped 64 shots, but like the game against Burrillville/Ponaganset, both teams were tied after three periods of play and two overtime sessions and went into a shootout to settle the score. In the shootout, Evangelista stopped four of the five shots she faced, but her team went 0-for-5 in the round and went home with a 3-2 loss.
âThat Mount game was another crazy game,â said Evangelista, who that freshman year, posted a 1.25 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage in 695 minutes. âI think that (North Smithfield team) may be the best team Iâve ever been on. We had Kayla (Kiernan) and Jess (Salisbury); that whole team was seniors and we had a great year.â
Unfortunately for the Northmen, who carried 18 players that season, seven seniors graduated and three players didnât return the following year. Five new players joined last yearâs team, some of which never played organized ice hockey before, but with six seniors graduating from that 2011-12 squad, the future of the team was in serious doubt.
Faced with the news she received from Tek and the prospects of spending her final two years of high school possibly playing on the boysâ hockey team, Evangelista and her family shifted gears and began looking at private schools with girlsâ hockey programs to attend.
Thatâs when Bay View came into the picture, but before committing to that school, Evangelista needed a better answer to her question about the future of her current team.
âI had to let Bay View know if I was going there or not in March,â recalled Evangelista. âIt was getting close to the deadline, and I needed to find out exactly what was happening next year with North Smithfield. With the information I received from my athletic director, I left. It was hard at first leaving the school, but it was something I had to do.â
But before leaving, Evangelista helped the Northmen win five of their last six games to return to the playoffs. And while she faced more shots last year (a state-leading 603) than her freshman year (255) â and in fewer minutes of ice time (660 last year) â she still put up a solid 2.35 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
The Northmen carried the momentum from their excellent finish in the regular season into their semifinal-round playoff series with Burrillville/Ponaganset, which nipped N.S., 2-0, in the first game of their series at Levy Arena to set the stage for Evangelistaâs magical night.
âI didnât even know I faced that many shots, to be honest,â she admitted. âI thought it felt like a regular shooting game. I knew I faced a lot of shots, but when I got off the ice after the game, my mom came running up to me and said, âBrit, you saved that many shots!â and I said, âSerious?â
âI didnât really care about how many shots I stopped. I was just happy my team won because we didnât have a strong team at all. We were basically playing a Division I team and we didnât have the numbers and the players that they had.â
Evangelista had a tiny feeling something was up in the third period when Burrillville/Ponaganset fired everything but the kitchen sink at her, but âat that point, I didnât care. Last year, I would get at least 40 shots each game. Even against Lincoln, they took over 30, and that was their first year as a team. I was just used to facing shots. I knew I was going to get a lot of shots that night and I wasnât really expecting anything less.â
âEverythingâs been good,â Evangelista said when asked about life at Bay View. âAt first, it was a lot different â itâs an all-girls school, the classes are different â but Iâm used to everything now; the academics will get me somewhere, and itâs been good.â
And Evangelista didnât take long to get involved with her new surroundings. She quickly joined the lacrosse team â a sport she never played before â and learned about the game while seeing bits and pieces of action with the Bengals.
âI picked it up just to play something in the spring,â she noted. âNow Iâm going to be the backup goalie for varsity this spring, so weâll see where that takes me.â
Unfortunately for Evangelista, her offseason hockey team, the Edgewood Hawksâ U-19 squad, ended up folding because their team from the previous season was comprised mostly of seniors, but she was soon able to rekindle her competitive fire when field hockey season got under way.
âThat was another sport I just picked up on,â she said with a small laugh. âI ran cross country my freshman and sophomore years, but Iâm not a runner, and I just ran basically to stay in shape and get a varsity letter. I wanted to do something else, so I tried field hockey and I ended up starting every game. I scored three goals and I had three or four assists.â
The goalie from that team ended up becoming the goaltender for the ice hockey team, when for the second straight year, the Bengals found themselves starting the season without a netminder, and they sought out her services.
âOur goalie is trying so hard,â added Evangelista. âThis is a sport you canât pick up and just play. Iâm trying to help her out, and every other shot in practice, Iâll go up to her and tell her what to do, how to fix something, and things like that. She was our field hockey goalie and she has that goalieâs mentality. Iâm just trying to sit back and help her become as good as she can be.â
In the meantime, Evangelista has to stand on the sidelines for one more game, Saturday nightâs contest at Adelard Arena against mighty La Salle Academy, before donning the Bengalsâ navy blue and gold. With a half season of hockey still to play, can the Bengals come back and grab the final Emma Division playoff spot? Evangelista sure hopes so.
âThe worst part about (not playing) is looking up and seeing the score,â added Evangelista. âOur team is so much better than our record shows and everyoneâs trying so hard. Iâve never been in a situation where Iâve been on a losing team, but hopefully I can help do something about it.â