WARWICK – When Mount St. Charles travels to Thayer Arena for an always-pivotal clash against rival Hendricken High on Friday night – of course, weather permitting – head coach Dave Belisle promises his squad will be ready.
According to the veteran head coach, the Mounties not only will draw upon lessons learned in a not-so-stellar performance in its own MSC Holiday Tournament last weekend but also a couple of confidence-building additions to his roster.
First, Belisle's bunch assembled a topsy-turvy collective performance in its tourney. After dropping a difficult shootout loss to St. Joseph's Collegiate High, the defending New York state champion, in the opener, it rebounded to pummel La Salle College High of Pennsylvania, 3-1, in the second tilt.
As for the finale, the Mounties battled Fairfield Prep, a Connecticut state finalist last winter, until the final five minutes of regulation before sustaining a dismal 4-0 defeat. (Fairfield had notched three goals in a late three-minute span to ice it.
Belisle spent close to a half hour behind closed locker room doors speaking to his players after the contest, informing them that they had to stop being so inconsistent and compete for 45 minutes, not what has been a standard of 30-35.
He has every reason to believe the Mount can compete with the Hawks when the puck is dropped at 7:30 p.m., Friday. It's still owns the top spot in Division I/Cimini League action with a 4-1-0 record (6-4 overall), and holds a one-point lead over the second-place Hawks (6-0-1 overall, 3-0-1 league).
Then there's the fact he's returning two standouts to action after they had suffered injuries.
“I've seen a big difference in practice since we lost to Fairfield Prep; No. 1, we've got our best center back in junior Patrick Holmes (sore shoulder), and our second-line forward, (junior) Kevin Valentine (mild concussion),” he noted. “They were both out a couple of weeks, so it feels good to be healthy again.
“We haven't fielded a full roster since the first game of the season (a 2-1 loss to the Hawks),” he added. “(Senior forward/defenseman) Tom Crudele had been out for a couple of games, but we got him back for the tournament. He did OK, considering he wasn't at full strength.
“Our problem in our tournament was we weren't able to generate much offense because we had too many key guys missing. They haven't been in the same game since the first, so – hopefully – with those three returning, we'll get our timing back.
“We've had three days of solid practices, so I'm hoping we can generate more offense; I mean, we're going to have to against a good team like Hendricken.”
Belisle explained the Hawks – mentored by Jim Creamer – have a lot of goal-scoring threats on their side, among them senior forwards (and tri-captains) Andrew Fera, Liam Watkinson and Jon Finelli. Defensively, it has junior keeper Matt Kenneally between the pipes.
“They're very tough on the offensive side of the puck,” Belisle claimed. “They're very physical, like to come right at you with some hard hitting. Defensively, they don't give you much – we're going to need plenty of speed and skill, and make some quick moves, to get through that defense.
“That's the thing about them; you can't just try to grind it out against Hendricken; we're going to have to try to beat them with speed and finesse. Of course we're going do some grinding, but we're going to need to execute to beat them.”
Belisle stated the Mounties have only seen this foe once before, that 2-1 loss at Adelard Arena, and that Kenneally proved rather stout in net.
“We generated some shots in that game, but they weren't the kind of shots we needed to beat them,” he said. “We took a lot from the perimeter instead of trying to close in. We need to be quicker and more creative. We'll see what happens on Friday.”