Here’s a look at the early state of affairs in hockey’s three divisions …
For most teams, a 1-2 start to a season usually doesn’t mean much. For Mount St. Charles fans, MSC’s 1-2 start has some of them reaching for the panic button, especially since the four-time defending champions haven’t began a Division I campaign with that mark since the mid-1970s.
Of course, two of their defeats have come to La Salle, which so far, looks like the team to beat. The Rams are 4-0, have outscored their opponents 27-4, and boast the division’s top three scorers.
Bishop Hendricken also looks formidable at 3-0, and tomorrow, the Hawks will face off with the Rams in an 8 p.m. showdown at Thayer Arena that promises to be in front of an enthusiastic standing-room-only gathering.
While both of those teams have several returnees with a year or two of varsity experience under their belts, the Mounties are fielding one of the youngest teams in recent memories and skating more than their share of first-year varsity players.
Nevertheless, there’s no sense of panic in the Mounties’ locker room, and their last loss, a 3-2 overtime defeat to the Rams last Saturday, even had a touch of optimism and promise to it.
“It’s not a slow start, but an inexperienced start,” MSC coach Dave Belisle noted after his team’s practice on Wednesday night. “Unfortunately, playing La Salle in two of our first three games wasn’t the way we drew it up, but I saw a lot of improvement from Game 1 [a season-opening 3-1 loss to La Salle] to Game 2, so I’m excited about that.”
Graduation took away five of MSC’s top six forwards (and 87 regular-season goals) and its starting goaltender, and two returning defensemen transferred to prep schools, leaving the team with a handful of veteran standouts and several untested players.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are young hockey teams, and seeing his team improve day after day has been rewarding during the early part of this season for Belisle.
“I’ve already seen improvement in this week’s practice,” said Belisle. “We’re just getting better. Obviously, the other teams in our league are (going to get better) too, but we have just a lot of raw, young talent that needs to be developed and learn the Mount system.”
As for the Mounties, their schedule doesn’t get any easier. They will host always-potent Moses Brown tomorrow at 9 at Adelard Arena, and after Christmas, they are guaranteed to skate in three challenging non-league games in their ultra-competitive holiday tourney, which features some of the top teams in the Northeast part of the country.
Traditionally, this tournament has helped prepare the Mounties for the final two months of their league schedule, and those three contests, plus their Jan. 2 showdown at Fenway Park against Cathedral High of Springfield, Mass., should help serve as a springboard for the Mounties into 2012.
“We need these non-league games to get us squared away and ready for the rest of our schedule,” added Belisle. “We’re going to have some growing pains and these probably aren’t going to be our only two (losses), but there’s no panic. We’ll see how they react and handle the growth process. It should be interesting, but I think we’ll be fine.”
Also at 1-2 is Lincoln, which is coming off a win over North Kingstown and faces a six-game stretch against its fellow public schools. On Saturday, the Lions will play the best of the public schools in Cranston West (2-1) in a 9:10 p.m. contest in Cranston, but the following weekend, they will contest the winless Skippers again.
While the Mounties’ slow start has been the talk among the area’s rinks, another topic of conversation has been Cumberland’s 3-0 start in the Division II-North circuit.
The Clippers, who have one of the youngest teams in the league with just four seniors on their 24-player roster, are one of three teams in the division with a ‘0’ in the loss column, and they’ll face the other two unbeaten teams on the road this weekend.
Tomorrow, the Clippers will bus to Thayer Arena for a 9:30 p.m. matchup with Pilgrim, which is also 3-0, and on Saturday, they will take a shorter drive to nearby Lynch Arena to tangle with the new St. Raphael/Providence Country Day/Wheeler co-op team (2-0).
The Clippers’ top player in the early going has been veteran senior center Michael Kinch, who has had a hand in all but three of his team’s goals and leads the entire Division II in scoring with four goals and eight assists.
Senior Ryan Huber has also supplied a decent scoring touch with four goals and as many assists, and junior Matt Rzemien also has three goals.
Defensively, senior Pat Noke, a first-year starter, has done an exceptional job in net and turned away 59 of the 63 shots he faced. He stopped 21 shots for his first career shutout in a 1-0 victory over Toll Gate last Saturday.
The Saints’ co-op team, meanwhile, has been sparked by some familiar names in the St. Raphael hallways. Junior Ben Mello and sophomore Mark Carrara lead the squad with three goals each, and junior goaltender Max Lemay has kicked out 27 of the 28 shots he faced in 63 minutes of action.
There is another 3-0 from this area, East Providence, which leads the Division III ranks, and like the Clippers, has company at the top of the standings with the defending champ Johnston/North Providence co-op team and Mount Hope also sporting 2-0 marks.
Like the Clippers, the Townies lost a solid group of players to graduation, but unlike the Clippers, they have received some scoring punch from players who weren’t among their top snipers from a season ago, such as juniors Paul Lukas (five goals) and Troy Derrick (four).
The Townies have also picked up where they left off defensively from a season ago and surrendered just four goals. Senior Shawn Medeiros and freshman Mark LeValley have played well between the pipes.
Among the teams hot on the heels of the unbeatens is Tolman, which is 1-1 and takes on Mount Hope tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Portsmouth Abbey’s rink.
On Saturday, the Tigers will host the Johnston/North Providence co-op team at 8 p.m. at Lynch Arena, and if they can take care of business in both games, they will surely find themselves in the middle of the early division race.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they have one glaring weakness – depth. They only have 13 players, and staying healthy will be a significant concern for them throughout the season.
Senior Kody Casavant (five goals) and sophomore Jared Pedro (four) are the team’s early scoring leaders, and junior defensemen Ryan Pedro and Chris Baldwin and senior goalie Stephane Meunier key the defense.