BURRILLVILLE — Ben Andersen could see the play developing in front of him and he was getting excited.
The junior defenseman, who is headed to the Winchendon School in the fall, followed junior forward Jack Farrell into the offensive zone early in overtime against rival Smithfield in the Burrillville Spring Classic at Levy Rink.
Farrell laid off a pass to Andersen in the high slot and the All-State defenseman ripped a shot into the Sentinel net to secure a 4-3 overtime victory and the tournament title on Sunday night.
“I honestly couldn’t have dreamed up a better ending for my high school career at Burrillville,” Andersen said Monday afternoon. “When I got that puck on my stick from Jack I knew where I wanted to shoot it. I barely saw it went in, but it was great and it was nice to get a little revenge on them and end the season knowing we’re the best public-school team in the state. We wanted to win this one for Pete [Lambert].”
“Ben has been a rock in the back for us for the last three seasons and what made him special was just his approach every day and his work ethic in practice,” said Burrillville coach David Farrell, who couldn’t coach the team due to RIIL rules prohibiting coaches from being behind the bench during offseason competition.
“I always say show you can do it in the RIIL before you move on and he did that for us. He proved it in this tournament and I think he was the best defenseman in the state this season.”
Andersen, who is a two-time Call/Times Boys Hockey All-Area selection, produced a goal and two assists along with just one penalty during the RIIL regular season to lead the Broncos to the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. The junior was even better in the Spring Classic, especially in the title game where he scored a pair of goals to help the Broncos overcome 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to deny the rival Sentinels in overtime.
The junior, who plays his split-season hockey for the Rhode Island Hitmen, will now switch his focus to prep hockey as he joins Mount St. Charles junior centerman Matt Mahoney at Winchendon in the fall.
“It was definitely a difficult decision and a tough process to go through,” Andersen said. “It will always be hard knowing that I’m leaving behind my brothers, but I also wanted to focus on my development. I wish all those guys the best of luck going forward. For me, my goal is to eventually go on to play in juniors and college hockey, but I know I need to get stronger, improve my hockey IQ and work on a few other things.”
If you’ve never heard of the Burrillville Spring Classic, it’s because the tournament didn’t exist prior to COVID. The Broncos normally host a fundraising Winter Classic right after Christmas featuring six teams, but the RIIL season didn’t start until late January, so the program’s booster club decided to get creative.
Burrillville invited eight of the top public-school teams from around the state to compete in a week-long tournament after the season. Burrillville was in a bracket with North Smithfield, Lincoln and Barrington. The Broncos posted a 7-1 victory over the Northmen, a 5-2 decision over the Lions and a 7-0 rout of the Eagles to earn the top seed.
After dispatching a talented RMR squad, 8-3, in the semifinals Saturday night, the Broncos ran into Smithfield in Sunday’s title game. The teams have been the best public-school sides in the state for the last few seasons, so there was plenty on the line at Levy Rink.
“I was really touched by how serious the kids took the tournament and how much it seemed to mean to them as a group and they loved being around each other and being in the rink,” Farrell said. “For them to have a week-long tournament like this and compete against other teams meant a lot to them.”
The Broncos, who were coached by Nichols College coach Joe Loiselle, got off to the worst possible start, as the Sentinels scored two quick goals in the first half. Junior goalie Bryden Hopkins then made a few important saves to keep the deficit at two before Mitchell Farrell connected with Andersen for a goal.
Jack Farrell tied the game early in the second half on a breakaway after a stretch pass from Jake Leclerc, but the Sentinels fired a shot past senior goalie Lucas Hundley to rebuild the lead. Burrillville sent the game to overtime with 2:04 left when Cam DeSante connected with Jack Farrell. Farrell then created the game-winning goal for Andersen early in the three-on-three overtime.
“The thing I liked most about the goal was how we maintained possession of the puck because there was a delayed offside and instead of dumping the puck, Cam held on to it and found Jack to start the goal,” Farrell said. “The kids understand the rivalry between the schools and the games we played the last few years. It was physical, but at the end both teams stood at their blue line and showed respect for each other.”
Jack Farrell finished the week with eight goals in five games, while DeSante scored four goals in the rout of RMR in the semifinals. Senior Ryan Boutiette also scored twice in the win over RMR, while freshman Ryan Frenette scored his first goal in a Bronco uniform. The Broncos also received solid contributions from underclassmen like Cade Pilling, Cole Laprade and Steve Rodrigues.
“Everyone had the chance to play in the tournament and everyone made a contribution to help us win it,” Farrell said.
Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello