NORTH SMITHFIELD --- A very difficult season for Lincoln High came to a rough end on Wednesday afternoon at the hands of a tough non-tough team -- St. John’s High of Shrewsbury, Mass.
The 12th-ranked team in the Eastern Mass. polls showed the small gathering at the Rhode Island Sports Center why they are among the teams vying for a berth in their state’s Division IA ‘Super Eight’ tournament by skating to a 6-1 victory over the Lions.
The Pioneers, who will head into the postseason with a 14-6-1 mark, play an independent schedule that features several of their state’s top programs. They also topped two of the Lions’ Division I public school rivals, Burrillville High (3-1) and North Kingstown High (9-0), earlier last month.
And while the Pioneers will wait and see if they are ‘Super Eight’ worthy or one of the top seeds in the Division I state playoffs, the Lions will be waiting for next season.
They end their first season as a Division I team with a 2-14-2 record (3-15-2 overall) that was one point shy of clinching the eighth seed in the quarterfinal round of next weekend’s playoffs and a best-of-three matchup with Mount St. Charles Academy.
“We thought we would get there,” noted Lincoln coach Jim Riel, whose team was a winter removed from a successful run in the extinct Division 1A ranks that saw them go 18-6-1 and play in the state finals. “Even going into the last week, all we needed to get was a point, but we were unable to get it.
“This was a really tough season. A lot of it was us not putting the puck in the net. Penalties were still an issue for us throughout the year and that caught up to us.
“It’s the way it goes. We’re sad we’re not in the playoffs, but this was a good group, especially the seniors. We went from one extreme last year to this, and everything in between the other couple of years.”
Junior center Kevin Emmerling, the Pioneers’ top scorer with 19 goals and 27 assists this season, scored twice to lead the way for his team, which carried the action through most of the final two periods and ended up outshooting the Lions, 37-19.
Keith Kelly scored St. John’s first goal 5:46 into the contest and Emmerling tallied the next two. His first was a power-play goal with 49 seconds to go in the first period, and his latter came 5:57 into the second period.
St. John’s then netted its other three goals in the first 10 minutes of the third period, but Lincoln avoided the shutout with 24.3 seconds to play when Ryan O’Dell fired in the rebound of a shot by Brendan Dyer for his team-best 11th goal of the season.
Lincoln goalie Cody Phillips, who turned away 32 shots in a 2-0 non-league victory over Cumberland High on Monday afternoon, was at his best again in a losing cause and valiantly turned aside 31 shots.
His best save of the night came 2:52 into the final period on a breakaway by Emmerling, who was awarded the free shot when he was hauled down from behind on a partial break. Phillips denied Emmerling of a hat trick with a low glove save.
St. John’s goaltender Ryan Deviney didn’t have to make half as many superb stops as Phillips, but he had an excellent kick save on a partial breakaway by O’Dell with 4:40 left in the second period.
The Lions, who had to deal with their share of injuries during the year, added to their list when they lost William Nesbitt to a tailbone injury late in the first period. He was later sent to the hospital.
“He’s our best center,” added Riel. “When he goes, our team typically goes, so when we lost him, it was tough to fill in for him. That’s the big difference between us and (St. John’s). They fill in a little better. We’re not deep like a lot of teams, and if we have an injury, we’re plugging in someone without much experience.”
St. John’s 2 - 1 - 3 -- 6
Lincoln 0 - 0 - 1 -- 1
First period: SJ -- Keith Kelly (Jay Duquette), 5:46; SJ -- Kevin Emmerling (Zach Byczko, Devin Smith), power play, 14:11. Penalties: SJ, 1-2; L, 2-4.
Second period: SJ -- Kevin Emmerling (Hunter Burdick, Nick Martin), 5:57. Penalties: SJ, 1-2; L, 1-2.
Third period: SJ -- Vin D’Amato (Andrew Smith, Joe Nardella), shorthanded, 1:33; SJ -- Nick Rutigliano (Connor Bertram, Keith Kelly), 2:52; SJ -- Connor Bertram (Jacob Poirier), power play, 9:58; L -- Ryan O’Dell (Chris Strain, Brendan Dyer), 14:35.7. Penalties: SJ, 1-2; L, 3-6.
Shots on goal: St. John’s 37, Lincoln 19. Goalie saves: SJ -- Ryan Deviney (18 saves), L -- Cody Phillips (31 saves).