Mount St. Charles goalie Brian Larence and his teammates face Coventry in the best-of-three semifinal State Championship series this weekend. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
Looking for a good semifinal-round series to follow this weekend?
Itâ€™s going to be awfully tough to pick just one.
Two series contain neighboring teams battling each other. Another features the regionâ€™s best parochial school team taking on the stateâ€™s top public school squad, and the fourth is a battle between two teams that saw two of their three regular-season games end in ties.
The best-of-three action begins on Friday, and the Division I series featuring Burrillville and Cranston West kicks off the schedule with an early 7 p.m. game at Levy Arena.
Mount St. Charles launches its State Championship series against Coventry at 7:30 p.m. at Adelard Arena. Tolman meets East Providence in their Division III opener at 8:10 p.m. at Cranston Vets Rink, and Cumberland and Lincoln open their Division II series at 8:30 p.m. at Lynch Arena.
The times for Saturdayâ€™s Game 2s are a little earlier, with the Burrillville-Cranston West series again getting the jump on the other series with a 6:10 p.m. start in Cranston. The Tolman-E.P. game at Lynch Arena and MSC-Coventry contest in West Warwick start at 6:30 p.m., and Lincoln-Cumberlandâ€™s game is at 7:30 p.m. at Adelard.
If a third and deciding game is needed in any of the series, and thereâ€™s a good chance that there could be two or three of them, they will take place on Monday night at the sites of the opening games at a time to be announced.
Hereâ€™s a brief glance at the four series:
State Tournament, Mount St. Charles vs. Coventry
The second-seeded Mounties (14-4) always seem to raise their play a level or two in the postseason, but in this series, expect them to bring a little more to the ice, especially since the third-seeded Oakers (12-6) handed them a 2-0 loss back on Jan. 19 â€“ their first defeat to a public school team in nearly a decade.
The Mounties, to their defense, played that contest without their All-State scoring threat, senior Brian Belisle, but since that loss, they own a nine-game win streak over their R.I. opponents that includes 3-1 and 4-2 victories over top-seeded Bishop Hendricken.
The Oakers, who have thrived in their first season in Division I after winning the last two Division II titles, have won four in a row and seven of their last eight games. Their best two players may be goalie Stephen Schmitt, who was second in all of Division I in goals-against-average (1.65) and save percentage (.932), and sophomore center Eric Pesola.
Division I Tournament, Burrillville vs. Cranston West
The best chance at one of the four series going the distance on Monday is this one. The second-seeded Broncos (4-11-3) turned in one of their best performances of the season to beat the third-seeded Falcons (3-12-3), 5-1, but the other two games ended in 3-3 and 2-2 draws.
If the Broncos plan to handle the Falcons, they will need to contain their first line, which has produced nearly two-thirds of the teamâ€™s scoring and feature their top two scorers in sophomore Jonathan Alsfeld (12 goals) and Anthony Simeone (11).
Staying out of the penalty box will also be important to both sides, especially since they were among the leaders in the division in that category. Both teams amassed 40 penalty minutes and four misconducts in their 2-2 tie two weeks ago. And if junior goalie Kyle Wilkinson can bring out his best this weekend, that will also give the Broncos a lift.
Division II Tournament, Lincoln vs. Cumberland
The Lions and Clippers hooked up for some memorable playoff series during the 1990s and early part of the 2000s, and now that the Lions are back in Division II, the two foes will be sure to add another chapter to their long rivalry.
The Lions enter this series unbeaten at 19-0-1, with that draw coming in a 3-3 battle with the Clippers on Feb. 1. But staying undefeated hasnâ€™t been easy for them â€“ their last nine games have been decided by three goals or less, including their back-to-back 3-2 victories over East Greenwich in last weekendâ€™s quarterfinals.
The fourth-seeded Clippers (15-5-1) are riding high after Mondayâ€™s shootout victory over the Rogers/Tiverton/Rocky Hill co-op team in Game 3 of their quarterfinal-round series. They have won six of their last eight games.
While both teams have their share of scorers â€“ Lincoln is led by Ryan Krohto (24 goals) and Drew Wood (19) and Cumberland has freshman standout Jake Salisbury (16) â€“ this series should come down to their sophomore goaltenders. The Lions have a solid duo in Chris Leclaire and David Jessey, and the Clippers are strong with Leo Lake.
Division III Tournament, Tolman vs. East Providence
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This is a rematch of last yearâ€™s Division III semifinals, which the Townies swept en route to capturing the championship. The second-seeded Townies (13-2-1) narrowly won their regular-season series with the third-seeded Tigers (13-4-1) by battling them to a 3-3 draw and posting a tight 3-2 win in their rematch.
The Tigers, who are playing in their final season with a 13-man roster, are determined to have it end in the title series at Brown University, and if they plan to do that, the offense, which averaged over six goals per game, will have to come alive.
Junior sniper Jared Pedro, who is back to full health after sitting out the last two regular-season games, leads the Tigers with 25 goals, while Brandon Speight has 18 and Ryan Deighan 16. Troy Derrick (19 goals) is the Towniesâ€™ top scorer.
Staying out of the penalty box will also be a key for the Tigers. In their 5-4 victory over Cranston East on Saturday that clinched their berth in the semifinals, they allowed four power-play goals that kept the game a nailbiter.