SOUTH KINGSTOWN — There was a big-game feel and the action to match on Saturday night at Boss Arena.
South Kingstown edged Lincoln 3-2 in a physical, back-and-forth matchup of unbeaten Division II squads. Andy Sprague scored the game-winner for the Rebels with four minutes left in the third period, just 42 seconds after Lincoln had tied the game.
“Lincoln is really good. They just keep coming at you. They’re physical, they’re well-coached. It had a playoff feel and it was good that our kids responded to that,” South Kingstown head coach Toby Gibbons said. “That Lincoln team has been playing really well and we stepped up a level tonight. We played a real solid team game.”
South Kingstown moved to 5-0 a year after winning just three games all season. Lincoln dropped to 5-1 in league play, happy with its play in the final period but wishing it had played a better first 30 minutes. Ryan O’Donnell gave the Rebels the lead with 10:45 left in the second period, and the Lions never led despite twice tying the game in the third period.
“Part of my problem was we kind of gave away the first two periods. We weren’t moving our feet. We were watching the puck,” lincoln head coach Mike Forrest said. “They’re a physical team and they’re a good team. We watched the puck and we watched them play for two periods basically. We picked it up in the third. Had a bad break on the third goal, but even the second and third goals, there are reasons why they happened. We didn’t get out of our zone on the second goal, and on the third goal, our defenseman got caught up high.”
A five-minute major penalty on O’Donnell carried into the third period, and the Lions took advantage as Kyle Costa swatted a deflected puck out of the air at the left post to tie the game with 12:24 remaining. Kevin Degnan assisted. Evan Adams answered for South Kingstown with 7:25 left, tucking home a pass from Eison Nee for the 2-1 lead.
The Lions came back again, with Spencer Smith netting the equalizer off a scramble in front, with Landon Forrest and Colby Acciardo tallying assists. But less than a minute later, Adams and Sprague broke loose on an odd-man rush. As Sprague streaked all alone into the slot, Adams threaded him a perfect pass in stride, and the puck slipped past Lincoln goalie Andrew Bruscini.
“I missed the puck actually. My stick went over it,” Sprague said. “The momentum just kind of pushed it through his legs and it went in.”
Lincoln pulled Bruscini for an extra-skater with 1:34 left, but the Rebels cleared the puck out three times to short-circuit the last-ditch comeback hopes.
“It was a battle. They’ve got a good squad,” Forrest said. “Good lines, good defense, good coaching. I think they’ll be in the mix.”
Bruscini made 34 saves for the Lions, while South Kingstown goalie Ricky Mather stopped 15 of the 17 shots he faced. The night before, Mather and the Rebels had to hold off a furious charge from Cranston West in a wild 8-7 win.
“Ricky had a great game. Fifteen saves tonight and I thought he made some huge saves when we needed him to,” Gibbons said. “Last night, he kind of struggled a little bit, but just like a good goalie will do, he’s like the etch-a-sketch – he shakes his head and doesn’t remember anything. Good goalies are like that. He played great for us.”
O’Donnell’s goal was the only tally of the first two periods, sandwiched by a parade of penalty box trips. The Rebels picked up two first-period penalties and the Lions had one before both teams were whistled for three in the second period.
While the game opened up in the third, with no penalties on either side, the Rebels were comfortable in a hard-hitting affair all the same.
“We can play a physical game and we did tonight. We were banging around a little bit. We can play that way and we can play fast. We can play a bunch of different ways, and I think that’s why we’re having some success,” Gibbons said. “Evan Adams, Andy Sprague, Curtis Granville, Ryan O’Donnell, Zach Hupf – you’ve got five forwards there who are juniors and seniors. They’re more mature. They can play that style and it doesn’t really affect them. That helps our young guys feel comfortable.”
At the other end, another veteran presence led the way for the Rebels.
“Aidan Moriarty was a monster for us defensively,” Gibbons said. “He logged big minutes, moved the puck well, played smart. We played good team defense today. He’s our defensive leader. Bennett Sousa, Ben Collins, Kyle Hadley all feed off Aidan.”
The formula is working for the Rebels, who continue to look like they’re back to contender status in D-II. They’ve now navigated their toughest test.
“We added a couple of key components,” Sprague said. “We were pretty young last year, too. I think the leadership and the team mentality – we set goals every week and we look to achieve them. It’s working for us.”