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St. Raphael/PCD/Wheeler co-op hockey team takes major step toward clinching Div. II playoff spot

February 25, 2014

St. Raphael/PCD/Wheeler co-op team goalie Brandon Gribbin, right, stopped 18 shots Monday as his team skated away with a key 5-4 victory over South Kingstown at URI’s Boss Arena. The victory enabled SRA to inch closer to clinching a Division II playoff berth. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

KINGSTON --- The St. Raphael/Providence Country Day/Wheeler co-op team and South Kingstown skated into their crossover contest on Monday afternoon at Boss Arena both sitting on the Division II’s playoff bubble and desperately needing a win to keep their postseason hopes afloat.

Fortunately for the locals, they stepped up their play and rose to the occasion in this must-win situation and now find themselves sitting on the doorstep to the postseason after a year’s absence.

Five different players scored for SRA/PCD, with SRA junior Nathan Duffy and sophomore Zachary Librizzi each scoring their team-leading 19th goals of the season, and the defense played a splendid game in a 5-4 triumph over the Rebels.

With five teams (Cumberland, Lincoln, North Smithfield, North Kingstown, and the Prout School) already assured playoff berths, four – including the locals and S.K. – entered the week fighting for the remaining three spots.

The win helps the locals raise their record to 10-6 and gives them 20 points, while the defeat drops the Rebels to 8-8, and with their 17 points, puts them behind Middletown (9-6-1, 20 points) and the Rogers/Tiverton/Rocky Hill co-op team (8-7-1, 18) in the playoff chase.

“I think we did ourselves a huge service today by winning this game,” added head coach Gary Leonard, whose team also skated past Middletown and the Rogers/Tiverton co-op team during the season. “This was huge. I think if we lost this game, we were paddling backwards up the Blackstone River.”

SRA/PCD can clinch its berth by securing either a tie or an overtime loss in one of its final two games this weekend at Lynch Arena or by having S.K. or Rogers/Tiverton/Rocky Hill lose one of its final two games.

“There’s still some work to be done,” remarked Leonard. “We have Lincoln on Friday night, which is obviously a very difficult test, and then we have East Greenwich on Saturday, which has been playing well. I think they have five wins, but they’ve been fighting tooth and nail every game.”

The locals had to fight tooth and nail to top the Rebels, but thanks to a three-goal outburst that came in a span of 4:40 late in the second period and some solid defense, especially in the final period (S.K. was limited to just six shots during that time), they were able to get the job done.

“We gave a good all-around team effort,” said Leonard. “We used three lines today, we got good goaltending from Brandon Gribbin, and we played well defensively. Between the second and third (periods), we really focused on playing good, sound defensive hockey, and I thought we did a good job.”

The locals broke on the board first with 4:28 left in the opening period on a goal by freshman Pat Flemming that was set up by Dylan Boisclair. But S.K. came back to take their only lead of the day when its captain, Chad Mitchell, netted the next two goals, the latter coming at 7:33 of the second period.

But that’s when the visitors answered back with the next three goals, and 17 seconds after Mitchell’s go-ahead goal, Mark Carrara knotted the contest by taking a pass from Flemming and flipping a wristshot past goalie Brandon Barnes.

With 4:17 left in the period, Tom Dudzik gave the locals the lead with a long slap shot that came off a nice pass from Carrara, and with 2:30 to go, Duffy made it a 4-2 game by stealing the puck from a defenseman near the boards, skating in alone on Barnes, and slipping the puck past him.

The Rebels managed to cut their deficit in half with 1:49 left in the period on a goal by Nick Zaroogian, but the co-op squad got that goal back 28 seconds into the final period on Librizzi’s goal.

Again, the Rebels struck back and pulled to within a goal, doing so on their second shot of the period, when with 3:23 on the clock, Hillock again found the back of the net off a pass from Mitchell.

But none of S.K.’s final four shots in the remaining minutes posed a serious threat to Gribbin (18 saves), and the Rebels weren’t able to pull Barnes for a sixth attacker until there was 36 seconds left in the game.

Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24

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