BURRILLVILLE -- For Burrillville, it’s looking an awful lot like the end of last season.
Owners of a 4-11-3 mark during the regular season, the Broncos caught a bit of fire in last year’s Division I tournament. They played some of their finest hockey of the winter in the best-of-three semifinals to sweep Cranston West and earn a spot in the title series.
This season, the script so far has been the same for the Broncos. Again, they went 4-11-3, and again, they raised their level of play to sweep a semifinal-round series, this time defeating defending Division I champion and higher-seeded Barrington by back-to-back 3-2 scores.
But unlike last March, when Burrillville lost in three games to the Eagles in the finals at Brown University’s Meehan Auditorium, the Broncos and head coach Steve Daigle would like nothing more than to write a different ending to that script this time around.
This weekend, they will pursue the 23rd state championship in the program’s rich history (and the first since 2008) when they take on the Cranston co-op squad in the best-of-three title series.
The opener of the series is scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. at Brown, with the second game slated for the following day at the same time. If a third and deciding game is needed, it will take place next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
And don’t be surprised if this series goes the limit, especially since the two teams’ regular-season series was a wild one, with plenty of scoring and high-flying action. Cranston won the first meeting on Jan. 11, 7-6, and after both teams battled to a 5-5 tie two weekends later, Burrillville skated to a 5-2 win on Feb. 22.
“It’s going to be a good series,” added Daigle. “It seems like you can almost flip a coin every time we play each other and the other (Eccleston) teams. I think it’s going to be a hard-hitting series – it’s pretty chippy out there when we play each other – but it’s going to be a good one.”
And it’s going to be a series, Daigle noted, where goaltending could decide the outcome, especially if one of the netminders, Burrillville co-captain Kyle Wilkinson (one of just four seniors on the squad) and the Falcons’ Anthony Lancellotti, rises to the occasion.
“I really think the difference in the series is going to be goaltending,” added Daigle, “and if our goalie plays his ‘A’ game, I think we’ll be fine. Kyle’s played really well lately, and he actually saved us last Saturday night against Barrington.”
The Broncos, as a team, have really played well since getting off to a rough 1-6-2 start, but they slowly got on track and officially started to turn things around three weeks ago when they took Mount St. Charles (a team that has traditionally had the Broncos’ number) into overtime before losing, 5-4.
“At the beginning of the year, when people asked me what our goals were for the season, I said to get back to the finals,” said Daigle. “But in January, I didn’t think that was going to be possible. I felt as though we didn’t have enough experience and we were too young.
“But since that (Mount) game, the whole team has really come together. It’s amazing. There’s so much sprit and passion to win this whole thing. There’s been a lot of preaching ‘Bronco Pride’ to the kids, and they’re buying into it and it’s really showing up.”
The Broncos’ high-scoring first line of junior co-captain Chad Stone and sophomores Tyler Kearney and Riley Tupper have really showed up after a slow start to their season and scored 42 of the Broncos’ 58 goals, with Stone leading the way with 20 and the other two with 11 each.
Stone and Kearney also tormented the Falcons (8-8-2) during the three-game regular season, with Stone producing five goals and adding three assists and Kearney adding four goals and five helpers, and they will again look to bully their opponent this weekend.
“At the beginning of the year, I thought they would be one of the best lines in the state, but they weren’t putting it together,” offered Daigle. “I actually split them up at one point, but then I put them back together and they really started connecting. They’re playing together and working off each other.”
Cranston, which swept its semifinal-round series with Coventry by scores of 4-2 and 5-2, offers a more balanced scoring attack, with six players tallying between 22-31 points and senior captains Anthony Simeone (13 goals, 18 assists) and Rudy Branca (6-25) leading the charge with 31 each.
“Cranston had five or six players in the top 10 in scoring in the (Eccleston) division,” remarked Daigle. “Both teams can score, but like I said, if either goaltender gets hot, it’s going to make a big difference in the series.”
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24