WOONSOCKET — Mount St. Charles Academy and Catholic Memorial got exactly what they needed from their non-league clash on Wednesday.
For the Mounties, they got a very competitive contest with one of Massachusetts’ premier teams -- a game that will help them prepare for the Division I playoffs that get under way in two weekends.
But for the Knights, they picked up something a bit more important to them -- a point that moves them closer to earning a return trip to their Division 1A Super Eight state tourney.
Down by a 3-1 score, the Knights received a pair of goals from Chris Stathopoulos, and it was his latter goal with 4:26 to play that helped his team overcome a superb third-period performance by the Mounties and exit Adelard Arena with a hard-fought 3-3 tie.
The draw enabled the Mounties (19-1-2) to conclude their difficult non-league slate with a 5-0-1 mark – their best out-of-state record in a number of seasons – while the stalemate moved the Knights (7-7-2) four points away from a playoff berth with four games to play, including one on Saturday night in Boston against Bishop Hendricken.
Unlike Rhode Island, Massachusetts teams focus on landing an overall record that’s .500 or better in order to qualify for the postseason.
Despite their record and 16 newcomers to their roster this winter, the Knights are ranked sixth in the Eastern Mass. polls. Their schedule is considered one of the toughest in their state, and this season, they topped four teams ranked in the top 10 and fought top-ranked Malden Catholic to a 1-1 draw.
“It’s a big game for us too, but this counts for them,” remarked MSC coach Dave Belisle. “I was talking to (C.M. coach) Bill (Hanson) before the game and all his (team’s) games for the rest of the year are huge. With that said, you have to give them credit for battling back and getting that tie.”
Belisle had mixed feelings about his team’s play, and while he was pleased with the way the Mounties performed at the start of the contest and throughout the third period, he felt the opposite with his team’s effort in the second period.
“We didn’t play very well in that period,” confessed Belisle. “We were too sloppy in our own end, which for me is unacceptable. No matter who the opponent is, you have to take care of the puck, and at times, we didn’t do that.”
While Belisle offered praise for his visitors during his post-game remarks, Hanson, who has experienced plenty of non-league battles with the Mounties since he began coaching at C.M. in 1974, also commended his opponent after the game.
“They’re as good as any team we played, if not, better,” added Hanson. “The thing I was most impressed about is that they played hard, but they really played the game the right way. They were clean; they took the body, nothing from behind, sticks down. They play hockey the way it’s supposed to be played.”
When the Mounties faced the Knights last February at Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena, they came away with a thrilling 2-1 victory.
On Wednesday, that was the score less than three minutes into play. Alex Erban needed just 51 seconds to net the Mounties’ first goal, and after the Knights’ Liam Coughlin tied the game at 2:02, Zachary Samborsky untied it just 34 seconds later.
“We’ve been really playing well lately and we’ve been striking early,” remarked Belisle. “In our last two non-leagues games with Hamden and Needham, we came out strong. It didn’t surprise me that we did it again, but I knew (C.M.) would counter because they’re a strong skating team.”
Samborsky then made it a 3-1 game with 3:59 to go in the second period by firing home a pass from Mike Magerman that was his second assist of the game. But again, the Knights quickly responded, and 17 seconds later, Stathopoulos scored off a pass from Coughlin.
The Knights soon tied the game on Stathopoulos’ second goal, which came off a turnover in the Mounties’ end and saw Stathopoulos take a pass from behind the goal by Coughlin and flip it past MSC goalie Dan Foster.
“A good forecheck created that turnover,” said Belisle. “We left the man open, there was a bang-bang play, and our goalie had no chance. (Laughlin) made a nice pass out front and (Stathopoulos) didn’t hesitate, he just buried it.”
While Foster ended the game with 27 saves, Hanson, who has gone with junior standout Tommy Knox in net for most of the season, elected to start sophomore Shane Starret, a Bellingham native, and he ended up with 26 stops.
“He’s played really well for us,” said Hanson. “He’s a hell of a goaltender and the kid’s only a sophomore. He stole a point against Malden Catholic for us and he played a great game earlier last week against (fourth-ranked) St. John’s Prep. He can play.”
Now that their non-league schedule, which included victories over two-time Connecticut state champion Hamden High and the top-ranked team in Eastern Pennsylvania, La Salle College High of Wyndmoor, Penn., is in the books, the Mounties will head back to their Division I slate before setting their sights on defending their state championship.
The Mounties, who have already clinched the regular-season crown and the top seed that goes with it, wrap things up with a 9 p.m. game on Saturday at Adelard against last-place North Kingstown and a ‘Senior Night’ contest a week from Friday back at home against Smithfield.
The Mounties are expected to face Lincoln, Barrington, or Smithfield in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs, which take place on the weekend of March 4-5.
“This was a great non-league schedule, and to accomplish what we did, I’m very pleased with the effort of the boys,” admitted Belisle. “It was a great year for the non-leagues, but now we have to finish the regular season and think about the playoffs. We still have some work to do and some things that we need to correct.”
Catholic Memorial 1 – 1 – 1 – 3
Mount St. Charles 2 – 1 – 0 – 3
First period: MSC -- Alex Erban (Shamus Maloney, Dom Rovero), :51; CM -- Liam Coughlin (Kevin McCarthy, Jared Beckwith), 2:02; MSC -- Zach Samborsky (Mike Magerman), 2:36. Penalties: MSC, 1-2.
Second period: MSC -- Zach Samborsky (Trevor Plante, Mike Magerman), 11:01; CM -- Chris Stathopoulos (Liam Coughlin), 11:18. Penalties: None.
Third period: CM -- Chris Stathopoulos (Liam Coughlin, Kevin McCarthy), 10:34. Penalties: None.
Shots on goal: Catholic Memorial 30, Mount St. Charles 29. Goalie saves: CM -- Shane Starret (26 saves), MSC -- Dan Foster (27 saves).