WOONSOCKET — Three periods, each one 15 minutes long, were not enough for Mount St. Charles and North Smithfield. Neither were two overtime periods. It was then off to a shootout, where a victor in this hard-fought playoff contest was finally decided.
Senior tri-captain Samantha Smith delivered the lone tally of the shootout and goalie Sarah Erban stopped all five shots she faced as MSC took Game 1 of the best-of-three semifinals, 3-2, Thursday night at Adelard Arena. The series shifts to the Rhode Island Sports Center for Game 2 tonight.
The outcome of this one was still in doubt as North Smithfield’s Kayla Kiernan went in for a potential shootout-tying goal. The senior appeared to have Erban where she wanted, but at the last second the puck glanced off Kiernan’s stick and into the corner.
“She had (Erban) beat and had the side she wanted to go to; she just didn’t pull the trigger quick enough,” said Bill Nangle, North Smithfield’s head coach. (Kiernan) is a great player who will do something different every time; you never know what she’s going to do.”
MSC head coach Steve Shea repeatedly challenged his seniors throughout the 60-minute skating session, so he wasn’t surprised when one of them came up big.
“I told them if it came down to crunch time, I was going to put it on the shoulders of the seniors, said Shea. “Sam was able to come through for us. She fired a shot to the upper right of the goalie and it was beautiful.”
In an ironic twist both sides went with freshman goalies, Mount selecting Erban (35 saves) while North Smithfield went with Britney Evangelista (64 stops). It was Evangelista getting the better of her counterpart early, stopping all 14 shots she faced in the opening period.
Evangelista’s stellar work between the pipes wasn’t the only reason why the Northmen vaulted out to a 2-0 lead. A Mount penalty for too many skaters on the ice resulted in North Smithfield’s first goal, as Kiernan pounced on a loose puck in front of the net and jammed it past Erban at 2:04.
The lead grew to 2-0 as the Northmen continued to pinch in down low. Hannah DeCelles, who was credited with an assist on N.S.’s first tally, gathered a wobbly fed from Kiernan and found the back of the net. The Mount bench argued that the goal shouldn’t count because they thought it was kicked in. The play stood at 10:28.
“We’re skating with two lines, so we know we have to come out early because we know we’re going to get somewhat fatigued,” said Nangle. “You wouldn’t know it by tonight, however.”
Nangle and his Northmen soon found out that there’s no such thing as a safe lead against the Mounties. The home wasted little time in the second period knotting the score, as Smith went top shelf on Evangelista, who appeared to take her eyes off the play, to cut the deficit to 2-1 at 1:28. The comeback was complete thirty seven seconds later as Allison Shea blasted a shot from inside the right face-off circle.
“Being able to use three lines and nine forwards gave us a little bit of extra energy,” said Steve Shea. “That helped us (last night) and hopefully we can carry it over.”
The game stayed in Mount’s favor as contest moved on to the third. By the midway point the home team had a 13-1 edge in shots. Defensively the Mounties swarmed Kiernan as it became common to see multiple white jerseys surround her every time she carried the play.
North Smithfield had a chance late as Amanda Dube unleashed a hard shot that Erban snatched out of the air at 1:14. Mount owned a 49-26 edge in shots as the game went to an extra session that featured 4-on-4 hockey and was scheduled to be 7:30 in length. A second OT session was required after neither side could reach a resolution.
Just to cover their tracks Adelard officials familiarized themselves with the rules regarding a shootout just in case the format was needed. It would prove to come in handy as the Mounties and Northmen remained tied after five grueling periods.
“It’s probably the greatest game of hockey I’ve ever seen,” said Nangle. “They’ve got until the lobby to mourn about the loss. Once we get on the bus we’ll be focused about (tonight’s do-or-die encounter).”
Said Shea, “It was a great, great girls’ hockey game, and I’ve been involved in women’s hockey since 1974. Both teams tried so hard.”