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PROVIDENCE -- Immediately after East Providence High had secured a 2-1 triumph over gritty Mount Hope High in the rubber tilt of the R.I. Division III Hockey Tournament finals Sunday afternoon, the Townies threw their gloves and sticks high into the air.
They then mobbed freshman netminder Marc LaValley behind his Schneider Arena goal line.
Given the length of time he spent under the pile of humanity, it was amazing LaValley could breathe to deliver his comments regarding EPâ€™s capture of its first state title since 2005.
â€śWhen we started in late November, we thought we had a pretty good team, but we never thought weâ€™d end up the state champions,â€ť gushed LaValley, whose 21 saves played an integral role in the victory. â€śThis feels great. I canâ€™t imagine this would ever have happened.
â€śI really wanted this for the seniors,â€ť he added. â€śThis was the last game of their high school careers, and some of them will never play hockey again. Iâ€™m really glad for them.â€ť
Stated first-year mentor Kevin Croke: â€śAt our first practice, I told our kids that we were going to win the state championship, that weâ€™d go deep into the playoffs. It had nothing to do with arrogance; thatâ€™s not my style. It had everything to do with knowing the character they had.
â€śIâ€™ve coached a lot of these kids for a long time,â€ť he continued. â€śIâ€™ve coached (senior tri-captain) Ryan Barry since he was 10, and (fellow classmate and tri-captain) Keith Marquis since he was 11. A lot of the others I coached, too, when I was doing the summer program for (former head coach Gregg Amore).
â€śWe had great chemistry on this team. Itâ€™s a great group of kids, and these guys are a feel-good story; theyâ€™re the epitome of Townie pride. They deserve every ounce of that championship plaque, and then some.â€ť
The Townies had suffered a 5-2 loss in the setâ€™s second game, and looked rather fatigued in the process. In the locker room prior to Sundayâ€™s winner-take-all, Croke kept telling his guys â€śPlay your game.
â€śI reiterated it; when we play our game, when weâ€™re physical, nobody can keep up with us,â€ť he noted. â€śWe had to forecheck, forecheck, forecheck and create turnovers, then work well off those turnovers. The Mount Hope goalie (sophomore Matt Wilson) played a terrific game, and he was able to shut us down.â€ť
Not for the contestâ€™s entirety: With the score still tied at â€śzip-zip,â€ť EP â€“ which finished its championship campaign at 18-6-1 â€“ started the final period with a 92-second power play. That came courtesy of Scott McGovernâ€™s penalty for hooking with 28.5 ticks left in the second.
When officials whistled senior forward Bill Egge for a five-minute major for boarding just 1:09 into the third, that gave Crokeâ€™s crew a five-on-three advantage for 23 seconds â€“ and a power play for 1:37.
A mere 27 ticks after the Egge infraction, Barry â€“ who snagged the Rev. Robert C. Newbold Most Valuable Player Award for his goal and five assists in the series â€“ fed junior forward Kevin Hall with a pretty pass. Hall, who was stationed in front of the right post, then shoved it under Wilsonâ€™s pads for the power-play tally that made it 1-0.
â€ś(Senior) Matt Hall (Kevinâ€™s brother) was slammed from behind, right on the numbers,â€ť Croke explained. â€śI talked to the referees, and our discussion was that we thought it was a boarding major that warranted a disqualification. They called upstairs to talk to the (Rhode Island Interscholastic Leagueâ€™s) Director of Hockey (George Egan), and he didnâ€™t think so.
â€śThe officials still did a great job of answering my questions,â€ť he added.
With 11:49 remaining, officials called senior Paul Lukas for tripping; and Barry joined him 1:29 later for a cross-check. That gave the Huskies (16-9-1) a four-on-three advantage for 31 seconds.
Over the next 40, junior tri-captain Justin Correia fired at least three shots on LaValley, but he came up with save after save to keep Mount Hope scoreless.
With 5:22 left, freshman Ryan Costa seemed poised to record his first goal of the tilt, but a Huskiesâ€™ defender hauled him down in the goalie box, and referees awarded him a penalty shot.
After taking a few seconds to catch his breath, Costa skated toward Wilson, juked right and backhanded the puck into the netting to give the Townies a 2-0 cushion.
â€śI saw the goalie come out of the net, so I faked to his right, and went left; thatâ€™s it,â€ť Costa smiled after the game.
When asked how it felt to score what proved to be the game-winner, Costa chuckled, â€śFor a freshman, itâ€™s just amazing.â€ť
Offered Croke: â€śWhat can you say? Croke and the penalty shot, that was more than composure under pressure. The kidâ€™s a very good hockey player.â€ť
Mount Hope sliced its deficit to 2-1 when senior Nick Salzano converted on passes from classmate Gian DiMezza and sophomore Ross Hogan.
The Huskies, understanding the necessity to knot it, picked up the pace a few notches. At the 1:57 mark, DiMezza drilled a point-blank wrister at LaValley, but the goaltender smothered the offering.
And, with 51.6 ticks left, Salzano skated in and passed the puck to Egge, who tried to shove it through a scrum in front of the net. Again, LaValley made a stellar save.
â€śMy only thought after Costa scored was (this): It doesnâ€™t take long for a team like Mount Hope to score two goals, so I had to be on my toes the whole time,â€ť LaValley stated. â€śI knew I had to have my head in the rest of the game.â€ť
All told, EP was called for seven penalties for 14 minutes, while Mount Hope sustained seven for 17. That five-minute major proved more than monumental.
When Croke was asked how serious the injury to Hall had been, he just smiled and said, â€śHe got a stinger; now heâ€™s in there celebrating.
â€śI have to give a ton of credit to Ryan Barry,â€ť he added of the RIILâ€™s D-III MVP. â€śHeâ€™s a total hockey player. He led our team in goals, assists and penalty minutes â€¦ but heâ€™s the guy who keeps the offense and defense together. Heâ€™s the one who does all the work back there.â€ť
While the Townies continued to pummel their goalie with hugs and pats on the back, Keith Marquis skated across the ice to Croke and embraced him for the longest time. It wasnâ€™t known what was said â€“ then again, who had to ask?
â€śWe were ready to play,â€ť Barry claimed. â€śWe wanted revenge for Friday night, prove we were the better team. It couldâ€™ve gone either way, thatâ€™s a great team they have there, but we worked so hard all season. Coach had skated us hard the last few weeks to prepare us for the 15-minute periods.
â€śLooked like it worked,â€ť he added with a shrug defining elation.