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The march to Providence College is on!
Five boysâ€™ and two girlsâ€™ teams will begin their quests for championship glory this weekend when their best-of-three quarterfinal round series get under way at hockey rinks scattered throughout the state.
In Division I, Mount St. Charles Academy will pursue its fourth straight state title. The Mounties are the top seed and will face eighth-seeded Smithfield on Friday at 9 p.m. at Adelard Arena and again on Saturday at 8 at the Smithfield Ice Rink.
Burrillville is also in the tournament as a sixth seed and paired up with third-seeded Moses Brown. Their series begins on Friday at 7 p.m. at Thayer Arena and continues the next night at 7 p.m. at Levy Arena.
There is only one team in the Division II tournament, Cumberland, which lost in last seasonâ€™s title series to Portsmouth. The Clippers will be the third seed and take on sixth-seeded Pilgrim on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Adelard Arena and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Thayer.
In Division III, both quarterfinal-round series have local interest. Fifth-seeded Tolman battles fourth-seeded Cranston East and third-seeded East Providence takes on sixth-seeded West Warwick. Top-seeded Johnston/North Providence and second-seeded Mount Hope have byes.
On Friday, the Tigers bus to the Cranston Arena for an early 6:10 p.m. contest with the Thunderbolts, while on Saturday, they host the â€™Bolts at 8:30 p.m. at Lynch Arena. The Townies host the Wizards on Friday at 8 at Lynch and visit them on Saturday at 7:30 at the West Warwick Civic Center.
In the girlsâ€™ tournament, which will award just one title and has been changed to a six-team format, defending champion Mount St. Charles and runner-up Bay View Academy are again the top two seeds and have quarterfinal-round byes.
The Burrillville/Ponaganset co-op team has the third seed and a matchup with the sixth-seeded Warwick co-op team, and North Smithfield owns the fourth seed and will play third-seeded La Salle.
Fridayâ€™s action has the Broncos hosting Warwick in a 6 p.m. contest at Levy Arena and the Northmen heading to URI to face the Rams at 7 p.m. at Boss Arena. On Saturday, the Northmen host the Rams at 6:35 p.m. at the Rhode Island Sports Center, while the Broncos visit Warwick at Thayer at 7 p.m.
If a third and deciding game is needed in any of the series, it will take place on Monday at a site and time to be announced.
Hereâ€™s a brief look at the seven series of local interest:
Mount St. Charles (16-1-1) vs. Smithfield (4-14)
If this was last season, this would be an outstanding series. The Sentinels had fared very well in their first winter in the stateâ€™s top division, posting a 13-5-1 record and playing three very competitive games with the Mounties in front of packed arenas.
But that was then and this is now. The Sentinels graduated several top players from that team and took their lumps this season. They were pummeled by the Mounties by scores of 11-0 and 9-0 and should be two-and-done by the time this weekend is over.
Burrillville (8-10) vs. Moses Brown (14-3-1)
Hereâ€™s a fast fact -- the six public school teamsâ€™ combined record against the four parochial schools is 0-47-1, and that tie came from Lincoln, which didnâ€™t qualify for the playoffs, yet battled La Salle to a 1-1 draw.
The Broncos have played very well as of late, but they could be hard-pressed to defeat the Quakers, who beat the Broncos by scores of 4-0 and 5-2 during the regular season. Moses Brown has won its last four games and boast four of the top seven scorers in the league.
Cumberland (13-3-2) vs. Pilgrim (11-6-1)
This is a difficult opening-round matchup for the Division II-North champion Clippers, who are facing one of the divisionâ€™s top-scoring teams and battled the Patriots to a 2-2 draw earlier in the season.
Defense has been the teamâ€™s calling card throughout this season and in years past, and if the Clippers plan to advance, they are going to need to play some solid â€˜Dâ€™ and receive strong play from veteran goalie Michaelangelo Federici.
Cumberland have also had its problems putting the puck in the net this year. Michael Kinch (13 goals) has played very well offensively as of late, but the Clippers are going to need a few other players to step up and light the lamp.
East Providence (11-5) vs. West Warwick (6-9-1)
The Townies caught fire in February and won eight of their last nine games to surpass Cranston East as the third seed and draw the Wizards, who stagger into the playoffs with four straight losses.
The Wizards actually topped the Townies, 3-1, in their first meeting, but E.P. came back to wallop them, 9-1, in their rematch, and since then, the Townies have played extremely well in all facets of the game.
John Andrews has been superb between the pipes, and Trevor Medeiros (18 goals) and James Hall (13 goals, 15 assists) have led the way offensively.
Tolman (8-7-1) vs. Cranston East (11-4-1)
These two teams havenâ€™t faced off against each other since December, and in both of those meetings, the Thunderbolts came away with 3-2 and 6-3 wins.
If the â€™Bolts have a significant advantage over the Tigers, itâ€™s in their depth. They regularly skate three lines and dress 18-20 players a contest, while the Tigersâ€™ roster is down to 15 players, as sophomore Kevin Tracey is out for the season with a broken arm.
Big things are going to expected from Tolman goalie Stephane Meunier, who played brilliantly in a 1-1 tie over Johnston/N.P. last weekend, and their first line of Kody Casavant (30 goals, 22 assists), freshman Jared Pedro (14 goals, 21 assists), and captain Pat Gray.
Burrillville/Ponaganset (13-3) vs. Warwick (6-10)
This has all the makings of a quarterfinal-round sweep. The Broncos, who are enjoying their best season in their programâ€™s nine-year history, beat Warwick by scores of 9-2 and 6-1, and the 6-1 defeat came during a woeful stretch that saw Warwick lose seven of its last nine games.
The Broncos boast arguably the best first line in the state in Katie Couture (23 goals, 21 assists), Kelsey Koprusak (11-32-45), and Kerri Nadeau (23-19-42). They finished 2-3-4 among the scoring leaders behind La Salleâ€™s Lauren Abbenante (32-25-57).
North Smithfield (8-8) vs. La Salle (11-5)
Both squads had battled each other in the last two Division II championship series, but with only one state crown on the line, they will be playing for their playoff lives.
The Rams swept their regular-season series with the Northmen by scores of 1-0 and 4-1, and not only do they have Abbenante scoring goals in bunches, but they also have one of the top veteran goalies in Holly Scott.
All eyes will be on Kayla Kiernan, the Northmenâ€™s senior center who scored
24 goals this season and is the stateâ€™s all-time leading goal scorer and only player to net 100 career goals. Expect the Rams to try to buckle down on her defensively.