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PAWTUCKET -- They donât share the same practice facility anymore, but that doesnât mean the rivalry between Tolman and East Providence has lost any luster this season.
Their two regular-season meetings â a 3-0 Tolman win on New Yearâs Eve and a 4-1 E.P. victory on Jan. 28 â were hard-fought, physical battles that saw a lot of penalties and hard feelings between the two Blackstone Valley rivals.
That being said, expect another royal slugfest this weekend when the teams renew acquaintances in the best-of-three Division III semifinals.
The Townies, the second seed in the tourney, will host tonightâs series opener in an unusual setting, Woonsocketâs Adelard Arena, for a 7:30 p.m. matchup, but the Tigers will bring Game 2 back to the area on Saturday for an 8 p.m. game at Lynch Arena.
If an extra game is needed to determine the winner, it will be on Monday night at a time and site to be announced.
The winner will face an equally-difficult matchup in the following weekendâs best-of-three finals at Providence Collegeâs Schneider Arena. Defending Division III champion Johnston/North Providence and Mount Hope, arguably the divisionâs two deepest teams, are contesting each other in the other semifinal-round series.
The winner will also hope they have enough gas left in the tanks, because Tolman vs. East Providence has traditionally been a hard-hitting, board-rattling affair and this series promises to be no different.
âTheyâre a physical team,â Tolman coach Steve Reynolds said of the Townies, who hold night practices at the Cranston Vets arena after years of afternoon workouts at Lynch Arena. âThatâs what they want, so weâre going to have to stay out of the box, just like theyâre going to have to stay out of the penalty box. No oneâs going to win any games from the box, so weâre going to have to stay disciplined.â
While fans can expect to see a physical matchup, they can also expect to see the Tigersâ high-powered offense, which scored 112 goals en route to a 14-4 record, against the Towniesâ stingy defense, which allowed just 22 goals in its 13-3 season.
âIn my opinion, E.P. is the best defensive hockey team weâve played all year,â offered Reynolds, whose team enters the series with eight straight wins, the last two coming in last weekendâs easy quarterfinal-round series of Scituate. âTheyâre excellent, and they make you earn everything.â
If the Tigers plan to stop the Townies, big games are again going to be needed from their top two snipers, senior Kody Casavant (37 goals, 23 assists) and sophomore Jared Pedro (31 goals, 17 assists). While they are 1-2 in the division in scoring, the Tigers do not have anyone else in the top 15 in the division in scoring, and they are also going to need solid contributions from their other forwards.
The Townies, who have won 10 of their last games, including a 2-0 win over Johnston/North Providence (14-2), have received balanced scoring from senior center Ryan Barry (16 goals, 25 assists) and juniors Troy Derrick (15 goals) and Paul Lukas (14 goals). Like Casavant and Pedro, the spotlight will certainly be on them, and like Tolman, other players are going to need to step up and contribute to the scoring.
Defensively, the Townies are led by senior blueliners Matt Hall and Keith Marquis and freshman goalie Mark LeValley, who has played superbly down the stretch, but the Tigers are also tough on âDâ (38 goals allowed in 18 games), have two excellent defensemen in juniors Ryan Pedro and Chris Baldwin, and a solid veteran goaltender in senior Stephane Meunier.