PROVIDENCE – Burrillville High assistant Mike Keable issued a few words of wisdom for his troops prior to facing Cranston Co-op in a winner-take-all rubber match for the R.I. Division I Tournament crown on Tuesday night
One came from head coach Steve Daigle, who would miss his second straight finals game due to a bout with pneumonia. The other came from the heart.
“We told the kids that this is your time to shine,” he stated. “We said that this was their opportunity to seize the moment.”
The Broncos did all of that in this championship tilt, but the Falcons came up with a bit more. Courtesy of sophomore forward Austin Alzate's two goals, Cranston Co-op captured the state championship plaque with a 3-0 triumph before a crowd of about 500 at Meehan Auditorium.
“I talked to Steve (Tuesday) at about 1, and he told me he wasn't feeling well; he's still expected to make a full recovery, but it's going to take some time,” Keable explained after the defeat. “He said he was very disappointed he couldn't be with the us and the kids for their last game, but – whether we won or lost – it had been a great season, and he coached a great group of players.
“Unfortunately, Cranston just had a little more than we did.”
Perhaps a minute after the contest had been decided, senior goalkeep Kyle Wilkinson remained in his crease while the Falcons celebrated at the other end of the ice. He leaned on his stick with mask faced downward, apparently staring at a sign of what could have been.
He and his teammates, after accepting their silver medals, nevertheless greeted the new champions with style and grace, shaking hands and even accepting some hugs from opponents they had faced all too often in the span of two or three seasons.
In the end, top-seeded Cranston utilized more speed and slightly better stick work to close its campaign at 13-10-2. Third-ranked Burrillville closed at 7-14-3.
The crew representing Daigle, Keable and Co. gave the Co-op team everything it could handle early on in the opening stanza. In fact, just 5:06 into it, officials whistled Ryan Perry for a roughing penalty that gave the Broncos their first power play.
Nothing came of it, but then Nick Kopsick took another call for a cross-check with 6:59 remaining, and that's when the lower seed came up with a couple of splendid scoring chances.
One came with 6:18 left; that's when junior defenseman Nick Koprusak gathered a turnover, skated up the middle and drove a hard wrister at Cranston goalie Anthony Lancellotti. The latter, however, made a stellar left pad save.
With nine ticks left on the man advantage, Koprusak sat in the box with an elbowing infraction, yielding the Falcons its first power play. The Broncos killed that penalty, yet – with only 1:03 remaining in the period – Alzate took a feed from senior quad-captain Anthony Simeone and roped a wrister from inside the left circle at the cage. Wilkinson seemed to have made the save, but it evidently trickled off his right shouder/arm and over the goal line.
That turned out to be the clincher.
Burrillville survived two more man-down situations in the middle session, the last coming with only 5.1 seconds left. Refs called Koprusak for another cross-check. With 1.4 on the clock, Simeone took a pass while stationed by the left post and tried to shove it past Wilkinson, but he refused to yield, stoning both tries.
The Broncos nevertheless opened the third trailing only 1-0, and it actually killed off the Falcons' third man advantage, one that lasted the initial 1:55.
The only problem came 55 ticks later. On a three-on-1 breakaway following a turnover, Simeone dished a back pass to the trailing Alzate, and he fired a goal over Wilkinson's right shoulder to give Cranston a 2-0 cushion with 12:10 remaining.
(Simeone, by the way, took home the Rev. Robert C. Newbold Memorial Most Valuable Player Award for recording three goals and three assists in the series).
The good news was this: Exactly 23 seconds after, junior Ryan Perry sustained a hooking penalty, giving the lower seed its third power play. At the 11:12 mark, Koprusak drilled a try from the right point at Lancellotti, but he squelched it with his right pad.
Less than a minute later, junior defenseman Ben Robinson snatched a rebound in front and tried to poke it past the keeper, though he made another nifty kick save.
Burrillville received its fourth man-advantage opportunity with 8:16 left after Travis Collins had been called for roughing. The Falcons nevertheless killed it due to outstanding clears from senior Adam Turenne, Alzate and Collins.
It seemed as if the Broncos had knifed the gap to one when senior Tyler Gautreau ripped a slapper from outside the blue line at the cage with 3:44 remaining; again, Lancellotti steered it away with his pads.
The new champions notched its last with 37.9 ticks left, that coming on Ryan Beliveau's unassisted empty netter.
“Even before the game, one of the things I told the kids was that – regardless of the outcome – it would not dictate their lives or how they would live them,” Keable offered. “A loss is still just a loss … They key to the third was their keeper making some really big saves.
“We were just hoping to get that one goal to gain some momentum,” he continued. “We wanted them to get pucks to the net and crash it, and we did. (Tuesday night) was just one of those times where it didn't work out.”
Explained Daigle by phone: “I'm pretty weak, but I really wanted to be there. It's a great group of kids we have; it's one of the better teams I've coached over the years. We have a lot of younger guys, but they play with a lot of passion. Do me a favor? Tell them how proud I am of each and every one of them.”
He didn't have to worry, as Keable already had.