BURRILLVILLE — The No. 3 Burrillville hockey team is the mythical public-school state champion for the second consecutive season, but being the lone public team in the state semifinals is no longer the goal for the Broncos.
After being trounced in a pair of shutout losses to eventual co-state champion La Salle last season, the Broncos are aiming for a better performance when they start their best-of-three series with No. 2 Bishop Hendricken Friday night at Thayer Arena.
“We’re very happy to be in the position that we’re in and it’s very important to us that we can be playing the longest out of all the public schools and that’s something that we’re certainly proud of because there are a lot of good teams in this division,” Burrillville coach David Farrell said prior to Thursday’s practice. “But, at some point we need to take it further. Just getting to the semifinals is nice, but it would be a lot nicer if we could continue to move forward.”
Burrillville (4-3-2 Division I) lost just one of its first six games of the season, but the final three games cost the Broncos a shot at the No. 2 seed and home-ice advantage against the red-hot Hawks.
Starting with a 3-1 loss to Hendricken at Levy two weekends ago, the Broncos went winless in their final three games and only advanced to the semifinals when No. 6 Barrington had to forfeit Tuesday’s contest because of a COVID-19 quarantine.
The Broncos haven’t played a game since Saturday’s 6-5 overtime loss to Cumberland where two of the squad’s best players, forward Ryan Boutiette and defenseman Ben Andersen, didn’t play because of injuries. Both will be on the ice Friday night and Farrell hopes the Broncos have ironed out some of their defensive issues with a good week of practice.
“We’re running out of time to get better and it just has to be better because our margin for error is just not there,” Farrell said. “If we get good goaltending [from Lucas Hundley] and if we take care of the puck and clean up some of the things we’ve had trouble with the last two weeks I think we have a reasonable chance. In some ways the rest is going to help us, but it remains to be seen what happens. We know our margin for error is small.”
Bishop Hendricken (7-2-1 Division I) started off the season losing two of its first four games, but then the Hendricken team many viewed as the favorite to win the state title showed up in February. Led talented forwards Nick Palumbo (13 regular-season points), Owen Leahy (13 points) and Harrison Guiliano (11 points) the Hawks won their final five regular-season games and then dismantled a shorthanded East Greenwich squad, 13-1, in the quarterfinals.
Each of the other three semifinalists pose a different problem for the Broncos and the biggest issue going up against the Hawks is the blue line where the likes of Griffin Crain, Jack Drohen and Noah Mertz jumpstart the Hawks’ attack. The Broncos counter with a strong blue line led by veterans Andersen, Mitch Farrell and Jake Leclerc.
The other big challenge for the Broncos is finding a way past goalie Drew Carr, who’s allowed just six goals in the last six games after giving up 11 in the first four contests.
Jack Farrell, who scored four goals in the overtime loss to the Clippers, led the attack with nine points, while linemates Cam DeSante and Boutiette each had seven.
“I think we have some guys on offense who are dangerous and can shoot the puck pretty well,” Farrell said. “I also think we have some guys on defense who can put the puck on the net and create scoring chances. They can do some things back there and those defensemen are experienced. This is all their third year in the playoffs.”
The Broncos, who are trying to become the first public-school team to play for a state final in 16 seasons, host the Hawks in Game 2 of the series Saturday night at 8 o’clock after No. 4 BPBV plays Game 2 of its state semifinal series against No. 1 La Salle. If a third game is needed, it will take place Monday night at Thayer.
Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello