WARWICK â Lincoln High is young this season with more than half of its roster consisting of freshmen and sophomores.
According to head coach James Riel, the one thing the Lions do have in their favor is depth.
While Lincoln may still struggle somewhat against the upper-echelon of teams in Division I, Riel envisions his squad being competitive against its other rivals.
The Lions gave evidence of that the past two games.
Just a few days after scoring nine times in a win over North Kingstown, Lincolnâs offense exploded again on Monday night. Highlighted by a hat trick from junior Drew Wood, the Lions opened up the two-day Toll Gate Holiday Tournament with an 8-5 triumph over the host Titans at Thayer Arena.
Lincoln did most of its damage against Toll Gate by scoring in close proximity to the net with its furthest goal coming just between the circles. It was a similar scenario in its game with the Skippers on Friday, a 9-2 rout.
âThe strength of our team is getting it down below the dots in the offensive zone,â Riel said. âWe really move well down low. We cycle well. We fore-check well. We feed each other well. A lot of our offense comes from rolling out of the points, getting high-quality shots and getting the extra shot on the net. I thought the kids did a very good job of that tonight. The last two games have gone that way.â
Lincoln (2-2-1 in Div. I) took a 1-0 lead with 9:48 left in the first period when senior Nick Zammarelli backhanded a nice shot from just outside the crease. But the Titans came back, scoring twice in less than a minute for a 2-1 advantage. Brandon Golda got a perfect feed from teammate Jack Sullivan just past center ice and quickly created a one-on-one situation by skating vigorously down the ice and flicking a shot to the left of Lincoln goalie David Jessey at 8:49. In another one-on-one, the Titansâ Casey Correia scored on a power play with 5:16 left.
Riel felt his teamâs defensive troubles during that 46-second span were ongoing throughout the game against the Div. II Titans.
âI thought defensively we were horrible,â he said. âI thought we had lapses all over the place. We try to pride ourselves in keeping our penalty minutes low, something we had a problem with the last couple of years.
âWe just want to play an aggressive, defensive style and make sure if they are going to score they are from screens from the outside. They shouldnât be point-blank shots. We did a horrible job on coverage. We werenât aggressive. It seemed like the effort was wasted in the offensive zone. Itâs a two-way game, offensively and defensively. I give us an âAâ on offense and a âDâ defensively.â
Lincoln managed to take the lead into the second period with a late flurry in the closing minutes. With 2:03 left in the period, Woods tied the score at 2 by slipping a shot through a throng of Titans defenders and past goalie Josh Giarratano. The Lions made it 3-2 with only 21.2 seconds left on a score that senior Paul Bruscini sneaked under the legs of Giarratano.
Lincoln again came through in the closing minutes in the middle period, scoring three of its four goals in a 52-second span that began with Wood giving the Lions a 5-4 lead at 11:51. Wood scored again just 39 seconds later and senior Zach LaRose gave Lincoln a convincing 7-4 advantage with 2:17 left.
âScoring is contagious and once you start to feel good about yourself, you start moving. I also think we are a lot deeper than Toll Gate is. We were rolling four lines tonight, especially in the third period,â said Riel, who suited up 23 players as opposed to 15 for the Titans. âWe were playing a full roster. I think that reared its head. I think that may have been the difference between the two teams, we are a little deeper. Our second line is still strong. Our third line is still strong and has the ability to score.â
Woodâs offensive outburst was not a surprise to his coach.
âWe just shifted him to center. He has been playing great all year,â Riel said. âHe has been kind of bouncing around from line to line. Heâs just a steady player. Heâs a two-way player all day. Sometimes you are not going to see the points on the board, but tonight was nice. Itâs nice to see his hard work paying off. Heâs probably one of our hardest workers. It was nice to see the puck go in the net for him tonight.â
The Lions had six different players make the scoring sheet. In addition to Woodâs hat trick and tallies by Zammarelli, Bruscini and La Rose, sophomore Michael Enos and junior Ryan Krohto also had goals.
Lincoln will be back on the ice tonight when it faces a red-hot Cumberland squad. The Clippers won their sixth straight game on Monday, beating Mount Hope, 2-0, in the second contest of the tourney.
The two local squads will square off in the finals at 7 p.m.