WOONSOCKET — Dave Belisle loves to see non-league games like this -- a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire matchup against a formidable out-of-state team that will only help make Mount St. Charles a better squad down the line when the Mounties take on their Division I opponents.
The Mount coach got one of those games on Thursday night against powerful La Salle College High of Wyndmoor, Penn., in their 16th annual Holiday Face-Off tournament at Adelard Arena.
His Mounties also got a championship plaque by winning a wild duel with the Explorers, 5-4, that included a high-scoring second period, a superb 51-save effort by MSC netminder Brian Larence, and the game-winning goal by Ryan Berard 2:11 into the third period.
The tournament title was the second straight by the four-time defending state champion Mounties, and like last winter’s title match, they had to overcome a very talented Explorer team that reached the Pennsylvania Class A state finals last season and entered this game with a 10-0 mark.
“That’s a tremendous hockey team we just played and they wanted revenge,” noted Belisle. “We beat them last year in the finals and they had a couple of things in mind -- win the championship and beat us too. They’re a first class operation and we had to really play well to beat them.”
And the Mounties indeed played a great game. Offensively, their first line lit the lamp early and often behind senior co-captain and tournament MVP Brian Campbell, who scored twice, and sophomore Brandon Borges and junior All-Tournament pick Brian Belisle, who each had a goal and two assists.
And then there was Berard, who broke a 4-4 tie with his third-period goal as he took a pass from Callan Morisseau and slipped it past La Salle goaltender Nick DeSimone, who also stood tall with 40 saves.
“They have really solidified our younger forwards, and these younger kids are starting to contribute,” the MSC coach added of Campbell and Brian Belisle. “They’ve been there from the beginning, so I have to give them a lot of credit for keeping us offensively focused.”
Defensively, MSC received excellent play from its three other All-Tournament selections, defensemen Steve Donahue and senior co-captain Ben Handanyan, and of course, Larence in net.
“Larence has been a pleasant surprise for us,” added Belisle. “There’s a lot of pressure on him because of the inexperience he has. He played one period for us last year, but he has really done a great job.”
Campbell got the hosts on the board 6:25 into the contest with an unassisted, power play score that saw him poke a loose puck near the right post through DeSimone’s legs.
But 89 seconds later, the Explorers answered back with a power play goal of their own, as Andrew Romano (another All-Tournament pick) got his stick on a pass by Ron Greco near the left post and tipped it past Lessard.
A little more than a minute, La Salle took the lead on a goal by Brett Supinski that came at the end of a line change by the hosts. His long shot from near the Mounties’ bench came with two players in front of Lessard and went between his legs.
Then came the second-period eruption, which saw both teams combine for 45 shots (27 by the Explorers) and kept the fans on the edges of their seats.
The Mounties knotted the score 3:06 into the period when Belisle took a pass from Borges and lofted a shot over the glove of DeSimone, and Borges gave MSC the lead at 4:44 with a power-play goal by tipping home the rebound of a shot by Belisle past DeSimone’s left skate.
But the Explorers came through with the next two goals to reclaim their lead. At 6:55, Ryan Walters tied the game on a goal that came near the end of a 5-on-3 power play, and a minute and a half later, they seized the lead on a goal by Brendan Jaquay that came seconds after MSC killed off a power play.
“When you play teams like this, you can’t go shorthanded,” admitted Belisle. “You’re going to put yourself in a hole and they’re going to take advantage because they’re too skilled, and they got a couple of power-play goals.”
But that would be the last time La Salle found the back of the net. Mount tied the game with 4:20 on the clock, as Campbell notched his second goal off a long pass from Belisle, and the Mounties went ahead to stay on Berard’s goal early in the third period.
The Explorers did their best to produce the equalizer, but they only managed 11 shots on goal in the final period and found themselves visiting the penalty box a little more than they liked.
Both teams ended up combining for 16 penalties (eight by each side), with the bulk of them coming in the last period and included a major by a MSC player and a game misconduct by a La Salle player.
While Belisle was obviously thrilled to see his Mounties repeat as tournament champions, he’s also been happy with the overall improvement his young club has made since the start of workouts back in November.
“They played a great game today,” said Belisle. “There’s nothing better than championship games, and I think this team needed to the finals. And they’re growing, they’re really, really growing. I’m so proud of them.
“We had such an inexperienced team at the beginning of the year, and here we are, even before Jan. 1, and I didn’t think we’d be getting this good this fast. We‘re going in the right direction and that’s good to see.”
The next game for both MSC and La Salle will ironically take place outdoors on a Major League baseball field.
The Mounties will take on Cathedral High of Springfield, Mass. next Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. It will be the third game of a tripleheader that will feature Boston schools in the 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. games.
The Explorers, meanwhile, will clash with Malvern Prep of Malvern, Penn. at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies next Wednesday as part of the NHL’s Winter Classic Festivities. The Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers will also play next Monday.