WARWICK --- Lincoln picked up right where it left off last winter.
Owners of a magical 23-0-1 mark and the Division II championship a season ago, the Lions kicked off their title defense on the right foot on Friday night by topping the St. Raphael/Providence Country Day/Wheeler co-op team, 6-2, in their Division II-North opener at Thayer Arena.
It was a decent start to a promising year for the Lions, who graduated seven players from last season’s team and are carrying an 18-man roster that has a return trip to the finals at Brown University atop their wish list this winter.
Senior forward Mike Enos matched his goal total from a year ago with a hat trick in the opening 15:17 of play, and classmate Aaron Fiske assisted on the Lions’ first four goals to help the Lions grab a 4-0 command before coasting the rest of the way to the victory, something that didn’t thrill Lincoln coach Jim Riel afterwards.
“We have the same goal this year that we had last year,” said Riel. “We want to play at Brown, and I think we have the potential to get there again. But if we play the way we did in the second and third [periods], it doesn’t look like we’ll get there.
“I thought we came out well in the first [period], but in the second and third, it looked like we lost some passion and I thought (SRA/PCD) outplayed us, and that’s not good enough for us this year. We’re going to have to move the needle a lot more this year than we had to last year. We’re going to have to get better and better every single week and every single game.”
Before the small group of fans could get settled into the bleachers, Enos put the Lions on the board with a fluke goal 2:13 into play, and Lincoln doubled its lead at 5:31 when defenseman Matt Carmichael unleashed a slap shot that sailed through the pads of SRA goalie Brandon Gribbin (20 saves).
Enos made it 3-0 with 4:23 left in the opening period, when seconds after his team killed off a power play, he broke in alone on Gribbin and flipped a shot over his right shoulder. He then wasted little time netting his hat trick -- just 17 seconds into the second period -- as he buried a nice pass from Fiske.
“That was good to see,” Riel said of Enos’s hat trick. “He was a little [snake] bitten last year. He had a lot of chances, but he couldn’t seem to put them in the net.”
The co-op team finally got on the board with 6:40 to play in the period on a shorthanded goal by SRA junior Nathan Duffy, but the defending champions got that score back 4:26 into the final period on a power-play goal from co-captain Tyler Duquette.
Five seconds after that goal, the co-oppers responded with a goal by Wheeler junior Justin Katz, but the Lions netted the game’s final goal on an empty-netter by Ben Hevner with 17.9 seconds on the clock.
While Fiske savored his four-assist night, his twin brother, Derek Fiske, also assisted on the final two goals. They are back with the Lions after spending last season playing junior hockey.
Senior co-captain Griffin Hevey also set up a pair of goals, and junior goalie Chris Leclaire stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced. The Lions only outshot their opponent by a 26-25 margin.
The Lions return to action tonight with another road game, a 7:30 p.m. affair at the Smithfield Ice Rink versus the Johnston/North Providence co-op team. That squad was winless a season ago in its first season in Division II.
Lincoln 3 – 1 – 2 – 6
SRA co-op 0 – 1 – 1 – 2
First period: L – Michael Enos (Griffin Hevey, Aaron Fiske), 2:32; L – Matt Carmichael (Aaron Fiske, Griffin Hevey), 5:31; L – Michael Enos (Aaron Fiske, Mike Strain), 10:37. Penalty – L, 1-2.
Second period: L – Michael Enos (Aaron Fiske), :17; SRA – Nathan Duffy (Patrick Flemming), shorthanded, 8:20; Penalties – L, 2-6, SRA co-op, 2-4.
Third period: L – Tyler Duquette (Derek Fiske, Michael Enos), power play, 10:34; SRA co-op – Dylan Gastel (Justin Katz), 10:39; L – Ben Hevner (Derek Fiske, Chris Leclerc), empty net, 14:42. Penalty – L, 2-4, SRA co-op, 1-2.
Shots on goal: Lincoln 26, SRA co-op 25. Goalie saves: L – Chris Leclaire (23 saves); SRA co-op – Brandon Gribbin (20 saves).