Cumberland coach Mark Andreozzi sends his Clippers against Portsmouth on Thursday night in a Division II semifinal game.
Two down, four to go.
Four wins are what separates three of the Blackstone Valleyâs boysâ hockey teams -- Mount St. Charles Academy, Cumberland High, and East Providence High -- from a date with state championship glory.
And the road for those teams continue this weekend when a half dozen best-of-three semifinal-round series around the state take place.
For the Clippers, they wonât have to wait too long for their Division II clash. The Division I-North champion Clippers, who are the third seed, will begin a difficult series with second-seeded, defending Division II champ Portsmouth High tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Portsmouth Abbeyâs rink.
The second game is Friday at 9 p.m. at Adelard Arena, and if the series is tied and there is a rubber game, it will be Sunday at 4 p.m. back at the Abbey.
This series is a rematch of last seasonâs competitive title series at Providence Collegeâs Schneider Arena. It saw the Patriots score a 3-2 overtime win over the Clippers in the series opener and a 3-1 victory in the Game 2 clincher.
The Mounties will continue their quest for their fourth straight Division I title and 42nd in their storied history on Friday when the top-seeded Mounties face off against fourth-seeded La Salle Academy and host the Rams in their series opener on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Thayer Arena, and if there is a Game 3, it will be on Monday back at Adelard at a time to be announced.
As for the Townies, they hold the third seed in the Division III playoffs and a tough test in defending Division III champion Mount Hope High, which owns the second seed.
The Huskies will host Fridayâs opener at 7 p.m. at Portsmouth Abbey, and the Townies will entertain them on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Lynch Arena. A third and deciding game, if necessary, will be back in Portsmouth on Monday at 7 p.m.
Hereâs a look at the three series of local interest:
Mount St. Charles (18-1-1) vs. La Salle (15-3-2)
As expected, the parochial schools (and top four seeds) put away their public-school counterparts with ease in their respective quarterfinal-round series.
Now the real excitement begins with second-seeded Bishop Hendricken and third-seeded Moses Brown battling each other in one series and the Mounties and Rams facing off in the other.
The Mountiesâ lone loss of the year came on Feb. 4 in their last meeting with the Rams, who rode a strong 27-save performance from goalie Joe Noonan to a stunning 3-0 victory. You can bet this game will be fresh on the minds of the Mounties when they hit the ice on Friday.
The Mounties, who endured a physical quarterfinal-round series with eighth-seeded Smithfield High, could be in for another tough series with the Rams. Both sides combined for 40 penalty minutes in their two regular-season duels.
Senior defenseman Stephen Inman is one of the leagueâs toughest player who can check with the best of them, and junior forward and sophomore forward Steve Rocchio are also two of the teamâs top physical players.
â(The series with Smithfield) was a tough physical series for us and it should get us ready for the next one,â remarked Mounties coach Dave Belisle. âLa Salle is also a physical team, but theyâve obviously a notch above Smithfield. It should be a very good series.â
Of the four parochial schools, the Rams may have the youngest roster (only a half dozen seniors), but the kids are alright. Freshman standout Bryan Lemos (16 goals, 16 assists), junior Dan Lucchetti (14-15-29), and Rocchio (16-12-28) lead a balanced scoring attack, and Noonan is a sophomore.
The Mounties, meanwhile, come into the series with more firepower than La Salle, three excellent lines, and their senior co-captains, Zach Samborsky (26-35-61) and Trevor Plante (36-24-60), enjoying tremendous seasons.
Cumberland (15-4-2) vs. Portsmouth (16-3-1)
Counting a 3-0 loss in their regular-season finale and last yearâs sweep in the finals, the Clippers have not beaten the Patriots in seven straight contests, but they hope to change that in a big way this weekend.
That could be easier said than done. The Division II-South champion Patriots are 10-0-1 in their last 11 games and boasting one of the top offensive units in the league that has averaged nearly six goals a game in their unbeaten streak.
âThey got a pretty balanced team and two lines that can score,â said Clippers coach Mark Andreozzi. âItâs not a question of shutting down one or two guys, itâs being able to shut the whole team down.â
The Patriotsâ assault starts with senior snipers Aaron Towers (29-14-43) and Matt Abraham (20-22-42) and continues with Mike Maggiacomo and Chris Oliveira, who have 14 goals each.
The Clippers, meanwhile, only have two players with more than seven goals, junior Mike Kinch (16-10-26) and Andrew Dulac (12-7-19).
âWe donât score often enough to get into a shootout with them,â Andreozzi added, âso we definitely need to play our game, play our defensive system.â
Both teams finished 2-3 in fewest goals allowed behind top-seeded Coventry High. Cumberland goalie Michaelangelo Federici led the division in goals-average-average (1.51) and was second in save percentage (.924), but not far behind him was Portsmouthâs Matt Maggiacomo (1.86, .916).
While most folks view the Patriots as a slight favorite in this series, the Patsâ recent history in the Division II postseason has not also been on their side.
Before winning the state title last year, the Patriots had endured a stretch of early-round knockouts, several of them to lower-seeded squads. They nearly suffered one of those to seventh-seeded South Kingstown last weekend, but managed to sweep them by close 4-3 and 7-6 score.
The Oakers are playing the fifth-seeded Prout School in the other semifinal-round series.
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East Providence (13-5) vs. Mount Hope (15-2-1)
No team in the division has played as brilliantly during the past seven weeks as the Townies, who storm into this series with victories in 10 of their last 11 games, including a well-played 4-3 win on the road over the Huskies on Jan. 28.
But the Huskies, who were 4-2 winners over the Townies in their first contest of the season, have also been playing excellent hockey as of late.
Both teams share plenty in common. Not only are they deep and able to skate three lines regularly, but they are also excellent defensively and in the middle of the division this season when it came to penalties.
The Huskies have several battle-tested players who were on last yearâs title-winning team that swept the Rogers/Tiverton co-op team and lost in the 2009 finals in a three-game thriller to Prout.
Senior center Ed Botelho (15-50-65) was the divisionâs leader in assists and points, and Gian DiMezza (30-28-58) and Chris Dugan (24-16-40) are also scoring threats. Jordan Viera and Chris Harrington also give the team a solid tandem of defensemen.
Also for the Townies, several players have stepped up their play during their recent winning ways, such as James Hall (17-15-32), Trevor Medeiros (18-8-26), and captain D.J. Donahue offensively, and defenseman Harrison Jones and goaltender John Andrews on âDâ.
In the other semifinal-round series, the top-seeded Johnston/North Providence co-op team is battling fourth-seeded Cranston East.