BURRILLVILLE — When it comes to the public school teams, there aren’t too many folks in the state who are as big as fan of them as longtime coach Gary Rouleau.
That being noted, you can’t blame Rouleau if he’s been particularly excited about the truly outstanding season his Burrillville/Ponaganset co-op team is enjoying this winter.
The Broncos, who skated to an easy 7-0 triumph over the Barrington/Mount Hope co-op squad on Saturday night at the Cranston Ice Rink, have won five games in a row and sit in second place in the standings with a 10-2 record.
That not only marks the best start in the team’s nine-year existence, but also gives the Broncos their first regular season with double-digit victories since their 2004-05 team finished with a 10-3-1 mark.
Also included in their hot start and win streak is an impressive regular-season sweep of two-time defending Division I champion La Salle Academy. In back-to-back Saturday-night meetings at Levy Arena, the Broncos galloped off with 5-3 and 4-0 victories.
“It’s always nice to beat the catholic schools,” said Rouleau. “(The public school teams) have always had a little place in my heart. I’m always rooting for them. We don’t always have all the advantages, but at Burrillville, we do have some of the advantages with our own rink.”
Add in some extra advantages such as having as the top-scoring first line in the state, a stingy defense that has yielded just 16 goals in 12 games, and a strong veteran presence (nine seniors), and you can see why this season has truly been one to remember for the Broncos.
“We’re having a very good season,” remarked Rouleau. “We haven’t said anything about playoffs or state championships or anything like that. Right now, everyone’s just trying their best and working hard in practice and it’s been nice.”
With two weekends left in the regular season, all signs point toward Mount St. Charles Academy as the team to beat. The defending state champs rolled into the weekend with a 13-0 mark and had outscored their opponents by a 73-7 margin.
And hot on the heels of the second-place Broncos hang Bay View Academy and La Salle, which also entered Saturday tied for third place with eight victories and 16 points apiece, and North Smithfield (7-7), which is in fifth place.
The top four teams in the standings will play for the state championship, while the remaining five will skate for the Division I title.
And the Broncos, thanks to their easy win over Barrington/Mount Hope, officially punched their ticket for the state playoffs.
“This season has been very competitive, at least from (places) 1-5,” reported Rouleau, who along with North Smithfield coach Bill Nangle, has been with his squad since girls’ hockey became a varsity sport in 2002. “I expect that when it comes playoff time, it’s going to be a nice (state tournament).”
In a winter that has made plenty of news, it’s been the Broncos’ talented first line of seniors Katie Couture and Kelsey Koprusak and junior Kerri Nadeau that has stolen most of the headlines.
The three forwards currently sit in the top five in the league in scoring. Couture, a Second Team All-State pick last season, is second in points with 37 (19 goals, 18 assists), Koprusak has nine goals and a league-leading 24 assists, and Nadeau boasts 17 goals and 15 assists.
“The red line’s there to put goals in the net,” added Rouleau. “Right now, they’re just clicking and you can see how they dominate the play.”
The second line features senior Chelsea Duquette and sophomore Samantha Roberts and Kali Kut, and the third line contains senior Melissa Vezina and freshmen Lauren Guilbault and Molly Solitro.
The team has also been in very good hands with their defensemen, and they have a superb quartet in seniors Sara Mandeville and Danielle Fiori, junior Megan Hurst, and sophomore Jackie Keable. Mandeville, Couture, Koprusak, and Nadeau are the team’s captains.
“They have been doing really well,” said Rouleau. “Danielle has been a big surprise. She used to play for North Smithfield when she was a freshman. She moved to Foster and didn’t play for a year, but she came back last year, got her legs back, and this year, she’s been playing great.”
The defensemen’s solid play has helped make life a bit easier for sophomore netminder Brittney Bebeau, who is following up a fantastic freshman season with an excellent winter that has seen her record five shutouts, a 1.33 goals-against-average, and an .897 save percentage.
“She’s done a great job,” said Rouleau. “We’ve always had two goalies, but this year, we only have Brittney. Danielle (Fiori) will play goalie if we need her, but sometimes it’s tough in practice not having that second goalie.”
While Rouleau has been impressed with his team’s play on the ice, he’s also offered praise for his players’ chemistry off the ice.
“The locker room makes a big difference, and the last few years, things have been great,” he admitted. “The Ponaganset girls have come over, and there’s been nothing but happy feelings with everybody.
“Not having a female on the coaching staff, it’s really hard to gauge what’s going on in the locker room. You can’t always stem the problems until they get out too far, but I haven’t had any and everything’s been great.”
The Broncos have four games left on their schedule, and while two of them appear to be winnable games against the Warwick (4-7) and Cranston (3-8) co-op teams, the other two are marquee games that are circled in red on their schedule.
In their next game on Friday, they will host Bay View in a 7:30 p.m. game at Levy Rink, and the following Friday night, they will clash with the Mounties in a 7:30 p.m. showdown at the Smithfield Ice Rink.
“I’m looking forward to playing Bay View and I’m really looking forward to some kind of showdown with Mount,” Rouleau said with a grin. “They beat us in our first game, 3-1, but it was really close, a 2-1 game until 10 seconds left. We haven’t had that kind of showdown with them in a while.
“No public school has ever beaten Mount. I know North Smithfield took them into overtime a couple of years ago, but we’ve always wanted to be the first one to try to beat them. That’s always out there, whether it’s at the end of the year or in the playoffs, so we’ll see how that goes.”