There’s been only one perfect regular season in the nine-year existence of the RIIL’s girls’ hockey program, and that was turned in by Mount St. Charles in the sport’s 2002-03 inaugural season, as the Mounties produced an 8-0 mark and went on to win the first of their six state championships.
Since that season, the girls’ schedule has hovered between 14-18 games, and in the past eight seasons, there hasn’t been a team that’s been able to run the table and enjoy an undefeated regular season.
Mount St. Charles came close to perfection six times during that stretch, but lost one game to ruin its bid. Last winter, the Mounties’ bid came to an end in their regular-season finale when the Burrillville-Ponaganset co-op squad beat them, 6-2.
This year, the Mounties are bringing back a strong group of players who will try to fetch the team its third straight state crown, but not only does the road to Providence College’s Schneider Arena promise to be difficult, but so do the odds of vying for that elusive perfect season.
For starters, the girls’ league will take the shape of the boys’ Division I format and divide the teams into two subdivisions, with the top four teams (MSC, La Salle, Bay View, and Burrillville/Ponaganset) facing off in the Emma League and battling each other three times during the season.
“It should be a fun season because we play each other three times,” reported Mounties coach Steve Shea. “I think there’s enough parity among those four teams that no one’s going to go undefeated. I would be shocked if anyone did because I don’t think anyone’s that strong.”
The rest of the league, which features two newcomers to the varsity scene in Lincoln and the South County Storm (North Kingstown, South Kingstown, and Narragansett) co-op squad, will play in the DaCosta League, which also has North Smithfield, Smithfield, and the Barrington/Mount Hope, Cranston, and Warwick co-op teams.
The DaCosta teams will play each other twice, and then cross over and take on the Emma teams just once; whereas in past years, every team played each other an equal amount of games.
What does this mean for the playoffs? The RIIL will crown two champions, a Championship Division and a Division I winner, and a power rating ranking system will be used to seed the eight teams for the two series. This system will award the normal two points to someone for beating an Emma team, but just 1.2 for topping a DaCosta team.
The top four point-scoring teams, regardless of which division they belong in, will then play for the Championship Division title, while the next four point-getters will compete for the Division I crown.
The Mounties’ goals this year are to obviously finish in the top four, return to the finals, and successfully defend their championship, but if they plan to do that, they’re going to need strong contributions from their younger players as well as their established veterans.
“When its comes to experienced and inexperienced players, our team is sort of half and half,” said Shea, who has four sophomores and five freshmen on his 20-player roster. “I think we have enough experienced players to carry us, but we‘re also going to have to rely on some younger players.”
Mount’s top scoring line is back in senior twin sisters Caitlin Shea (11 goals) and Allison Shea and senior Lauren Levesque, and junior Alisha Sleboda (10 goals) and sophomore Briana Castro also contributed to last year’s offensive attack.
Seniors MaryKate Stimpson and Lauren Deguire return on defense, and they will be joined by classmates Cassandra Czarn and Kaitlyn Croke, who were forwards last season, but will take their talents to the blue line.
Back in net is sophomore Sarah Erban, who had a 0.55 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage in 195 minutes last year. She had some big games down the stretch and in the playoffs to help the Mounties win their title.
Last season, Burrillville/Ponaganset enjoyed its finest season in its nine-year existence by capturing eight of its last nine contests and handing the Mounties their lone loss en route to a 13-3 record.
Ten players graduated from that squad, including high-scoring forward Kerri Nadeau (23 goals) and standout defenseman Sara Mandeville, and the team’s other 23-goal scorer, Katie Couture, transferred to prep school.
But don’t feel that bad for the Broncos. They feature over 20 players on their roster, and while only two of them are seniors, centers Kelsey Koprusak (last year’s state leader in assists with 32) and Audrey Jerome, 11 hail from a solid junior class.
Some of the Broncos’ top 11th graders are forwards Kali Kut and Samantha Roberts, defenseman Jackie Keable, and goalie Brittney Bebeau, who played every minute of every game last year and posted a 1.38 GAA and .900 save percentage.
Burrillville/Ponaganset won its season opener on Friday night by rolling past South County, 8-0, and in that victory, the Broncos may have found their next great scorer in freshman Emily Cardon, who scored three times.
North Smithfield enters this season without the services of the state’s all-time leading scorer in 100-goal center Kayla Kiernan and with one of its smallest rosters in years (14), but the cupboard is far from bare with this season’s club.
Seniors Hannah Decelles, Nicole Dumais, and Lauren Ledoux provided some scoring punch last winter for the Northmen, who were 8-8 during the regular season, while senior Cara Figuerido and junior Samantha Archambault were solid contributors on defense.
In net, the Northmen are in good hands with sophomore Britney Evangelista, who had a 1.83 GAA and .890 save percentage in 255 minutes of action last season.
Longtime coach Dick Ernst, who has coached high school hockey for 48 of the past 49 seasons, will lead the Lions into their inaugural season of varsity hockey. He had coached La Salle for the last four years and led the Rams to the Division II state title in 2009 and ’10.
The 72-year-old veteran mentor will have a 15-player roster that has just two seniors, forward Tiffany Brousseau and defenseman Gifty Asamoah, but most of its numbers in the junior and sophomore classes.
Junior forward Jean Bray is the Lions’ captain, and junior Ashley Devolve, who was the starting goaltender this past year for the field hockey team, and sophomore Allison Lague are the goalies.