A change to the playoff structure last season meant every team in Division I boys hockey was competing for the same prize. The year before, the playoff field was divided into two brackets and Prout had claimed the second-tier championship.
The fact that such a title wasn’t up for grabs last year was part of the reason the Crusaders didn’t have as much success in their second year in the state’s top league – but only part of the reason.
“We weren’t happy with the product we put on the ice last year,” head coach John Gaffney said. “It’s less about wins and losses and more about commitment and being competitive every night. I think that was lacking at times last year.”
The result was a 1-14-1 campaign and a lot of lessons to go with it.
“You can’t take any shifts off and you certainly can’t take any games off,” Gaffney said. “If you do that, those teams will expose you, and we got exposed a lot last season. Over the summer, we talked a lot about raising our compete level.”
It will still be tough sledding against the likes of La Salle, Bishop Hendricken and Mount St. Charles, but the Crusaders are hoping to make more of a push this season, with a mix of veterans and emerging young talent ready to lead the quest.
The program features a dynamic sophomore class, and three members of it are skating on the top line – Zach Bell, Ryan O’Donnell and Bennett Masterson.
“They’re really going to be the catalyst for us,” Gaffney said.
The second line is a more veteran unit that provides a good complement, with seniors Kyle Hart, Nick Gauvin and Michael Castelli forming a physical unit.
“They play a heavier game,” Gaffney said. “They’re a really good group, and they’ll grind it out.”
A number of players are in the mix for the third line.
The defense will be a work in progress, with sophomore Drew Brouillette, senior Michael Morrison and junior Colin Bois leading a fairly inexperienced group. Senior Luke Lemieux also has some ice time under his belt.
Junior Mitchell Lindley returns after handling most of the minutes in net last season, but he’s being pushed by sophomores Matthew Pari and Wells Masterson.
The Crusaders got off to a strong start in Saturday’s Injury Fund event with a win over North Kingstown.
“It’s always a great event, great for the community to come out,” Gaffney said. “We collected donations for the Jonnycake Center and the Injury Fund. It’s a win-win. In terms of the game, it’s kind of a dress rehearsal. We had some good goals, and our goaltending was solid. It was a good step forward but we still have a lot of polishing to do.”
The schedule will include a number of non-league games, plus the inaugural Crusader Christmas Classic Dec. 26-28 at Boss Arena featuring North Kingstown, Barrington, Portsmouth and two teams from Connecticut.
As for the D-I slate, the Crusaders are ready to take on the challenge.
“At the end of the day, if we have another season like we had but we compete harder, then we’ll be OK with that,” Gaffney said. “But I think we’ll have more success, too.”
SK rolling with young squad
Youth and depth define the South Kingstown hockey team this season, and the Rebels are hoping it adds up to a good mix.
“I really like this group,” head coach Ed Curran said. “ Every team is different. You sort of have to let the chemistry develop, but I get the sense that this team is close knit and hard-working, and those are attributes that will really pay off. They’re already becoming a pretty solid team.”
The Rebels have are looking for improvement after two sub-.500 seasons that followed an almost identical script. They finished 7-11 in the 2016-17 campaign and 7-10-1 last year, in both cases losing out on a playoff spot during the final weekend of the regular season.
To break through this season, South Kingstown will need young players to step up. The good news for the Rebels is that there’s a wide pool of possible breakthrough performers.
“We have a young team – only two seniors – but the young guys are stepping up,” Curran said. “We’re really trying to build that depth. We have a lot of guys who can play and we’re going to play everybody.”
Colin LeClerc and Mike Boynton are the lone seniors, with LeClerc serving as a captain. Boynton is an assistant captain along with juniors Andy Sprague and Evan Adams.
Boynton, Adams and Sprague are making up the top line and they racked up five goals in Saturday’s Injury Fund win over Narragansett/Chariho.
“They’re already clicking,” Curran said. “That top line is going to do a lot for us.”
LeClerc, junior Zach Hupf and sophomore Curtis Granville are currently manning the second line. Depth comes into play for the third line, where multiple players are in the mix at every position. The list includes juniors Ezra Gonsalves and Patrick Young, plus several freshmen.
The defense is led by junior George Cairns and Aidan Moriarty. Sophomore Bennett Souza saw a lot of time as a freshman, while classmates Kyle Hadley, Colin McNamara and Cole Haigh are among the other players in the mix.
Junior Ricky Mather is taking over at the goalie spot. Colin Egan and Parker Smith, who split time over the last few years, were set to be seniors this year but have been sidelined by injuries suffered in other sports. The Rebels also have freshmen goalies Sam Wallin and Joe Bruno in the fold.
“It’s nice to have so many young guys,” Curran said. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores and they’re all getting into the mix.”
The Rebels remain in Division II, but the landscape around them will be a little different, with defending champion Barrington moving to D-I and former D-I squads Cumberland and Cranston West sliding down.
South Kingstown hopes to make its mark.
“I think it’s going to be a good, balanced league,” Curran said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it all develops. I think we’ve got just enough experience to make a playoff run. That’s always our goal.”
Skippers learning the ropes
Saturday’s Injury Fund loss to Prout showed the North Kingstown hockey team exactly what it expected.
The Skippers have good depth and a solid skill level, which allowed them to hang in there and keep it a 2-1 game through the halfway point. But they also lost 10 seniors to graduation and are dealing with inexperience all over the ice, part of the reason Prout was able to pull away down the stretch.
“Watching the film, the first four goals Prout scored were on mistakes that can be easily fixed, so it’s pretty positive in that regard,” head coach Bob Nabb said. “I think we have the skill level and the numbers to be successful. It’s just getting them to play with each other and avoid those simple mistakes. It’s going to be a learning curve.”
Last year’s large senior class led the Skippers to an 8-8-2 record and the brink of a playoff run. They won the first game of their Division II quarterfinal series before second-seeded Rogers/Middletown/Rocky Hill rallied to win the next two games for a spot in the semifinals.
It was the end of the road for a lot of veteran players who had been contributors for multiple years.
“Ten seniors graduated, so any time you have that, it’s going to be a tough situation,” Nabb said.
An influx of newcomers – from transfers to upperclassmen joining the team for the first time to freshmen – have kept numbers from being an issue. The Skippers have 25 players on the roster.
“The good news is we have a real big freshman and sophomore class,” Nabb said. “But it’s going to be a pretty young team this year. It’s a very steep learning curve when half the roster is kids who weren’t on the team last year.”
Patrick Asher and Zach Lindo are the only seniors. Asher is playing some defense this year after skating as a forward in the past, aiming to solidify the back line. Lindo should be a solid scoring threat.
Junior Hayden Shabo and sophomores Nick Chabot, Justin McCarthy and Jonathan Sanchez all gained experience last year and will be key pieces to the puzzle. Chabot and Asher are the team’s top returning scorers, having tallied seven points each last year.
The rest of the spots up front are truly up for grabs, with as many as eight players competing for time.
“I’ve been telling them it’s wide open,” Nabb said. “We have about 15 forwards and any of them have the size and skill for playing time.”
Last season, senior twins John and Sam Fuller split time in goal, so the team must replace both at the same time. Given that, the Skippers are surprisingly well-positioned, with junior transfer Nate Collins, sophomore Kyle Saleh and freshman Braeden Perry all ready to go.
“That might end up being a strength for us,” Nabb said. “They’re big kids and training-wise, they’ve been in good programs. I think they’ll do well. And that needs to be a strength for us.”
Asher leads the defense, along with Hendricken transfer Carter Damm, newcomer Matt Foster and junior Nate Goulart. As with the forward spots, there’s competition for every opening.
The Skippers hope everything comes together quickly. The learning process will continue.
“It’s great having the numbers, having so many freshmen come out,” Nabb said. “It’s just so many new faces. We have some work to do, but that’s what makes it fun. We’re going to get better.”
Narragansett/Chariho looking for improvement
The construction project has been underway, with numbers growing and young players learning the ropes. The Narragansett/Chariho co-op team is still looking for the finished product as it enters this season.
After a winless campaign in its first year as a co-op in the 2015-16 season and a 1-17 showing the next year, the team again went 1-17 last year. There were bright spots along the way, like a win over Johnston/North Providence in January and a string of close games that followed, but the overall picture remained a work in progress.
For this season, the team has 20 players on the roster, a good number for a program that has struggled with depth over the years. There’s also a fair amount of experience in the fold. While top scorer Austin Pratt graduated, second-leading scorer Jack McGreen is back, along with third-leading scorer Jake Lapovsky. Among other players back with experience are Charlie Ruth, Charlie Ashworth, Shaun Quirk, Brendon O’Rourke and Jay Desrosiers. Goalie Jake Natalizia also returns for his third year as a starter. He played every minute last season and led the league in saves while facing a barrage of shots.
The team lost a lopsided game to Division II South Kingstown in its debut during Saturday’s Injury Fund event, but will dive into D-III league play soon. The season opener is set for Sunday at Adelard Arena, where Narragansett/Chariho will take on Scituate/Woonsocket at 7 p.m.