SMITHFIELD — North Smithfield coach Paul Nadeau knows the wins are not going to come easy.
After enduring some success in Division III the last few years, including capturing a state crown in 2005-06, the Northmen made the jump to Div. II this year. Nadeau is realistic at what he expects from his squad in the faster and more-talented division.
“I just want to play the best hockey we can play,” he said. “We have a real young team. I have one senior and three juniors. That’s it. I think the important thing is to get them into good habits, getting comfortable at this level, understanding what they need to do to get better and just try and stay positive and build on that. I am not looking at this as being a one-year thing and we are done. I want to get us to the point where we can sustain in this division.”
North Smithfield experienced one of those lumps that it expects in its newest division on Friday night, falling to Ponaganset, 4-3, in its league opener at the Smithfield Rink. The Northmen overcame a two-goal deficit and tied the game at 3 with two scores in the third period.
But the Chieftains’ Kevin Phillips was the spoiler, finding the net with just 1:24 remaining in the tilt. Phillips’ game-winner came in a hurry. The junior skated briskly in front of the crease, gathered the puck and snuck a shot past NS keeper Brandon Caya on the right side.
“It was just a bad play in front of the net, not putting the puck in a safe place in our zone,” Nadeau said. “(Phillips) took the puck and just put it in the net. It wasn’t an easy shot. He kind of put it right underneath the crossbar. He could see the guy was moving his legs and found a spot to score a goal, and he capitalized.”
For Ponaganset, the ‘W’ already matches its win total from last year when it compiled a 1-16-1 mark in the division.
“I think this team will strive to make the playoffs,” said Ponaganset head coach Steve Winsor, who lost five players from 2009-10. “We will not ever give up.”
North Smithfield took a 1-0 lead early in the game when sophomore Maxx Forti scored with 6:42 left in the first period. Forti took a perfect feed from senior Connor Narodowy from the left circle and deposited the puck into the right corner of the cage.
The Chieftains didn’t waste time in knotting the score at 1. Less than two minutes later, freshman Cody Donovan fired a shot through a crowd of defenders.
Ponaganset would score three unanswered tallies after the Northmen’s initial goal with senior Aaron Lavoie finding the net twice in the second period. During the stretch, North Smithfield had four penalties.
Nadeau felt that the penalties may have affected his squad somewhat.
“We’re a team, we’re young but we do have some speed,” he said. “I think we need to dictate the pace of the game. I think after (Forti’s) goal and all those penalties in the first period it kind of threw us off a little bit and we were kind of sluggish in the first period because we had to deal with those penalties. Starting the second, we didn’t go back to our speed of play. We let them dictate the speed going into the second period. That’s not going to work for us because we are just not a very big team. We need to skate harder and faster than the other guys.”
The Northmen had their most impressive period in the third, controlling the puck beyond the blue line for a good portion of the 15-minute session.
N.S. sophomore Matthew Prudhome got his teammate with a goal at 1:47 on a feed from Narodowy. Narodowy then tied the game with a unassisted power-play goal less than three minutes later.
“The third period I feel like we kind of woke up a little bit and we had some good opportunities with the power play,” Nadeau said. “We made a few changes with the personnel and it paid off for us quick. Then at the end of the game, Ponaganset wasn’t willing to cash it in.”
North Smithfield 1 0 2 - 3
Ponaganset 1 2 1 - 4
First period – NS, Maxx Forti (Connor Narodowy, Cameron Stone) 6:42; 2. P, Cody Donovan (Matt Harkin, Tim Smith) 8:31. Penalties – NS, 2-4.
Second period – 3. P, Aaron Lavoie (Mike Giorgio) 9:37; 4. P, Lavoie (Smith, Cody Oliver) 13:19. Penalties – P, 2-4. NS, 2-4.
Third period – 5. NS, Matthew Prudhome (Narodowy) 1:47; 6. NS, Narodowy (unassisted) 4:30 pp; 7. P, Kevin Phillips (Cody Oliver, Cody Donovan) 13:36. Penalties – P, 2-4.
Saves – P, Zachary Blain 24. NS, Brandon Caya 26. Shots – P 30. NS 27.