WOONSOCKET — Mount St. Charles Academy coach Tony DiLorenzo has a dilemma on his hands this week, and it’s not trying to figure out a way to upend unbeaten La Salle Academy in their best-of-three title series at Brown University’s Meehan Auditorium.
Rather, it’s trying to figure out how to compete with what may be an 11-player roster, no thanks to a pair of injuries suffered by two of his defensemen in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Warwick co-op team that completed Mount’s best-of-three semifinal-round sweep.
The Mounties, who began the season with 15 players on their roster, their smallest squad in the team’s 11-year history, headed into their series with Warwick with just 13 and did everything they could to hold off arguably the state’s top public school squad.
If Mount’s two injured defensemen – one who is “day-to-day” with an ankle injury and the other with a head injury – are unable to answer the bell for tonight 8:15 p.m. series opener (Game 2 is Thursday at 8:15 p.m.), what will DiLorenzo pull out of his sleeve?
“I don’t know,” he admitted on Monday before his team’s afternoon practice at Adelard Arena. “I’m very limited with starters that can compete against La Salle. We usually go six forwards and three ‘D’, and not having the two ‘D’…
“We’re going to have to explore maybe moving some forwards to defense, having them play a defensive role and attack whenever we can because we know La Salle is powerful offensively. We can’t go into the series weak defensively.”
Especially against the Rams, who head into the series with a 19-0 mark that includes last weekend’s semifinal-round sweep of the Burrillville/Ponaganset co-op team and has seen them score 111 goals while allowing just 10.
Three sophomores have done the bulk of the scoring for the defending champs, Meaghan Rickard (30 goals, 22 assists), Sarah Migliori (23-22), and Michaela McNamara (16-15), and their freshman goalie, Taylor Peltier, has a 0.44 goals-against-average and .973 save percentage.
But while Peltier faced just 257 shots, MSC sophomore netminder Ari Tourtellot has seen nearly twice as many pucks. Her 428 saves during the regular season is a school record, and counting the series against Warwick, where she stopped 64 more shots, she boasts a 1.99 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
“She will have faced over 500 shots by the end of the finals,” remarked DiLorenzo, who added with a laugh, “I’m supposed to be a defensive coach, and that’s embarrassing. But she has held us in there because we only have three defensemen. It’s a lot of credit to her and three girls playing defense the whole game and taking double shifts.”
However, what the Mounties lack in quantity, they certainly make up for in quality. They also have two of the state’s top scorers in sophomore Elisabeth Berard (23-28) and junior tri-captain Briana Castro (23-24). Another sophomore, Alexis Fagan, has 16 goals and 12 assists, and senior tri-captain Alisha Sleboda (14-13) adds to the attack.
Senior tri-captain Marissa Heroux has also been a solid all-around player, and sophomore Bri Luciani, the only defenseman left standing after last weekend’s series, “is a converted forward who has done a great job to get this team to where it’s at,” said DiLorenzo.
While those players and a few more have been keys to the Mounties’ success, so has their off-the-chart conditioning, which has helped the team last throughout the regular season and allow them to complete it with a 13-4 record (that includes 8-1, 3-0, and 3-1 losses to the Rams).
“I made a commitment to skating them hard from the beginning of the year,” DiLorenzo admitted, “and that seemed to be the difference in them not losing their will in Game 2 against Warwick when we had the two injuries. It was huge. If we had to play a Game 3 (on Monday), being down people and coming off a loss, it would have been emotionally hard.”
Having to upset arguably the finest La Salle team in its program’s nine-year history also promises to be hard for Mount, even with a full complement of players, but regardless of what happens this week – win or lose – DiLorenzo noted that he can take pride in what his small group of players accomplished this season.
“They’ve achieved above and beyond,” he said. “I told them right at the beginning (of the year) that we’re not the Mount teams of old. We can’t play a fourth line. It’s hard enough to roll some of our players out for double shifts for 15-minute periods and have them play both ends of the ice with a lot of energy.
“This has been a great season, and I don’t know if they fully appreciate that getting to this point is quite an accomplishment on their part, but I’m sure they will.”