WOONSOCKET — Fact is, Mount St. Charles Academy chief Dave Belisle likes the way his squad is playing right now.
He admitted being less than ecstatic with the Mounties' 7-4 triumph over Coventry High in the first game of a best-of-three R.I. State Championship semifinal set last Friday night, but couldn't have been more satisfied with their 4-1 victory 24 hours later.
With that sweep, second-seeded MSC earned yet another berth in the state finals, and will take on familiar foe La Salle in the series' initial tilt at Meehan Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., Friday.
Game 2 is scheduled for 8 p.m., Saturday, while the “if-necessary” game will take place at 7:30 p.m., Monday.
Belisle indicated he wasn't shocked when he discovered the No. 4-ranked Rams had upset top-seeded and league regular-season champion Hendricken with scores of 2-0 and 6-2, but found it surprising they did so via a sweep.
“Anything can happen in a short series like that, and La Salle, I knew, was certainly capable of beating them, but a sweep was a surprise,” he said of Mount, now 17-7-0 overall. “I know them, and they did it with great defense. It must have played extremely well.”
As for his own club, they had notched three unanswered goals in the first period of Game 1 against the Knotty Oakers, then took a 4-0 cushion early in the second before Coventry forged a stellar comeback. It eventually sliced the deficit to 5-4 in the final stanza before MSC's defense regained its edge.
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“There were moments in the first game where we were a little sloppy; we were playing too much on the offensive,” he noted. “Offensively, I liked the way we played, but defensively, we were much better in the second.”
There are few issues with the Mount playmakers as the winter campaign winds to a close; in fact, the Mounties' leading goal scorer, junior Tyler Scroggins, finished with a whopping five goals and two assists in the set against the Oakers, while senior captain and linemate Brian Belisle manufactured two goals and five assists.
“Without question, Tyler has had a great year, and he didn't miss a beat when Brian was out,” Belisle stated of his son, who missed several games due to a concussion suffered against Cranston West early on in the season. “He was our key, and – when Brian came back – the combination was even better. With (senior) Dan Glod, they form a very strong line.
“Tyler's a goal-scoring machine; that's why he led our division in goals (with 28 during the regular campaign). He's quite a threat, and now that he's playing with Brian, he's an even bigger threat.”
There's more good news for Mounties' fans: In three previous contests this winter, MSC won all, including a 4-2 verdict on Jan. 18, a 6-0 shutout on Feb. 22 and a 3-2 thriller on March 1. (The latter two occurred at Thayer Arena).
Belisle nevertheless is taking nothing for granted, despite the fact his group has captured seven straight wins and 11 of its last 13 dating back to a 2-0 defeat to Coventry on Jan. 19.
“These are the state finals; if you notice, the (margin of the) scores are coming down, and I expect those types of games (referring to the latter 3-2 decision) this weekend,” he mentioned. “Our concern with La Salle is they have a very good defense. They have an All-State defenseman in (senior Nick) Migliori, and they play really good team defense.
“They can make it difficult to penetrate, so we're going to have to use our speed and offensive skill to score, but they have some kids who also can put the puck in the net,” he continued. “Still, with La Salle, it all starts with defense.”
Sophomore keeper Tyler Walsh may be young, but he did register three shutouts this season for the Rams, who had some problems finishing contests. All told, they suffered four one-goal losses, tied Cranston West early and closed with a 1-1 mark in overtime verdicts.
The Rams (who went 9-8-1 in league action and is 13-9-1 overall) have outscored their foes by just 65-49 (including playoffs), while MSC has tallied 96 and allowed only 54.
“I think Walsh has had a great season,” the elder Belisle offered. “He's a big kid who covers a lot of net, and they've got some really good two-way hockey players, (among them senior forward) Jason Delisle and (sophomore defenseman) Nick Altieri. They do it in the offensive zone, and are more than reliable on the defensive end. I'm sure they'll be ready to go.
“I think, to be successful, we're going to have to establish our forecheck,” he added. “We must do that, and we've got to make them commit turnovers. Obviously, we also have to stay out of the box. We've got to play disciplined hockey and get contributions from our other kids.
“We've been top heavy this year. We rely so much on our first line, we're going to need contributions from our second and third.”
The second line consists of sophomore Patrick Holmes, junior Devin Votta and senior Vincent Pearl, with the third being sophomore Justin D'Abrosca, senior Keegan O'Leary and junior Tom Crudele.
“We've been dominating when we get opportunities (off the forecheck/turnover) and put the puck in the net,” he said. “It'll come, but we have to get past that defense first.”