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Townie community basks in glow of hockey championship

March 19, 2012

East Providence netminder Marc LaValley

EAST PROVIDENCE — Gabrielle Turner admitted it during gym class Monday afternoon.
The East Providence High senior and her friends did, in fact, attend the Townies' 5-2 loss to Mount Hope in Game 2 of the R.I. Division III Hockey Tournament best-of-three finals set on Friday night, and she claimed she was truly saddened by it.
“They could've taken (the state championship plaque) home that night, instead of having to come back and play another one,” she said, referring to the winner-take-all Game 3 held at Providence College early Sunday afternoon. “My boyfriend (a 2011 EPHS graduate) and I debated on going, but we went to the mall instead.
“I was thinking, “If they lost the game I went to, maybe they'll lose the third one,'” she added. “I didn't want to jinx them.”
Turner, however, did enlist a “Plan B.” Before she and her beau took in the movie “21 Jump Street” at Providence Place Mall, she asked a pal to call her with updates from Schneider Arena. At 3:06 p.m., she received a text regarding the outcome.
“It said, 'We won!!!'” giggled Turner, the girls' varsity soccer squad's co-captain this past fall. “I just looked at my boyfriend and smiled, then said, 'We did it!' … Part of me wishes I had gone, but I'm kinda glad I didn't because we may have lost. Yup, I'm that superstitious.”
Students, faculty and staff had a little more bounce in their steps Monday after receiving word their Townies' icemen had snagged a 2-1 victory over Mount Hope, clinching the school's first state hockey title since 2005.
At approximately 7:25 a.m., Principal Janet Sheehan announced over the P.A. system that “Congratulations” were in order. Some of the students and teachers who attended the contest already knew that, but others didn't.
“I think this is a very big deal because the school needed something good to happen to it, just to pick up morale,” Turner reasoned. “There hasn't been much (morale) lately, not after we found out (the School Committee) cut middle school sports.
“A state championship shows we need athletics in the middle schools, just to prepare our student-athletes.”
As dozens of students filed out of the cafeteria Monday, Athletic Director Paul Amaral stopped senior Tom Turner and asked if he had gone to Sunday's game. He said he wouldn't have missed it.
“I have a real love for hockey; I wanted to see our Townies win the state championship,”
noted Turner, a four-year gridder who this fall started at center and defensive tackle. “I was there Friday night when they lost, and I felt bad about it. I was hoping they'd win it in two consecutive games.
“When they clinched it (Sunday), I was jumping up and down with all the other kids,” he added. “All my life, I've reveled in Townie sports. I have so much pride in them. It's been inside me my whole life. We hadn't won anything in a while, so this state title is incredible!
“(On Monday), there were some kids who didn't know. When they told me that, I was, like, 'Are you crazy? We're the state champs in hockey,' and some were, like, 'We are?'”
Stated senior Natalie Beauparlant, a varsity golfer: “I went Friday night, and I knew when they lost, they'd come back and win it all. I knew they were determined to redeem themselves. I'm so proud of our team, and so proud of our school for supporting them. They worked so hard during the season. They definitely deserved it.”
When asked how she felt when the Huskies sliced the deficit to 2-1 with 4:13 remaining in regulation, junior Mary Monagle replied, “I had a feeling they'd hang on to the lead, and it's because they knew how important a win would be for themselves, for our school and for the entire community.”
That's when freshman goaltender Marc LaValley walked by, and Beauparlant queried, “How did you do it? I don't know how you stopped all those pucks flying at you!”
A slightly embarrassed LaValley, who finished with 21 stellar saves, just shrugged.
“The team relied on him a lot,” Beauparlant said. “They put so much pressure on him, but he did a great job.”

**

LaValley claimed he was still “flying high” after the victory, one later celebrated by the team and its followers with 20 pizzas and tons of soda at the school's courtyard.
“It's been amazing; this is the only day of school I was looking forward to,” he exclaimed, then admitted he was kidding. “Everyone knew about the game and how we won it. I got some hugs from some girls, which was awesome, but I would've been open to some kisses on the cheek, too.
“All the guys told me “Congratulations!' The guys on the team got together, and we just went nuts,” he continued. “Our principal said over the intercom she was proud of us, and everybody who went, but what really blew my mind was the police escort. It was unbelievable!”
Amaral indicated that someone had called the East Providence Police Department following the win, and two officers arrived in a pair of cruisers, not at the city line but at the arena.
Sirens blaring, they escorted the team buses back to the school.
“We were on the team bus, and we were hanging out the windows; there were so many cars following
us, and everyone was yelling, 'State champs, state champs!” LaValley explained. “Everyone was so happy. It was awesome!
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, for sure,” he added. “This whole day has been incredible. We left the pizza party at about 5 (p.m.), and went to the Red Bridge Tavern with some parents. Even then, they were saying, 'Great game! I don't know how you did it, but we're so proud!'”
Amaral, for one, does know.
“Certainly, everyone has been ecstatic; to win a state championship at any time is a thrill,” he stated. “If you look at the team from the beginning of the season, one wouldn't think they would have been in this position, but the (head) coach (Kevin Croke) certainly thought so. He believed in his kids.
“He knew there was a large graduating class of players the previous year, and that the goaltending situation was up in the air. There were some seniors coming back without a great deal of experience, and some freshmen coming in who he may not have known.
“When you think about building a team from the net out, there was some uncertainty there, but now, looking back, the defense improved during the regular season. It takes a lot of time for a team to gel, it doesn't matter what sport you're talking about. It takes a lot of time to develop. They started out slow, but they sure got it going.”

**

Amaral noted he didn't expect this particular contingent to capture a state crown, especially with a first-year coach in Croke, who took over for long-time mentor Gregg Amore.
“Any coaching change is a huge dynamic,” he indicated. “It's very difficult at any level to build upon, and that's true at the professional, college or high school levels. You need to develop chemistry; I now see that the coaching dynamic – with Mr. Croke, assistant coach Mike Forrest and volunteer assistant Ian Ridlon – was in place.
“They had coached together before, so that gave them the continuity. They had the confidence to implement their system, then they had to get the kids to buy into it.”
Amaral explained Croke and Co. had worked with the players before; even Croke stated after the tilt that he had coached senior tri-captain Ryan Barry since he was 10, and classmate Keith Marquis since age 11.
Croke also indicated he and Forrest had become more than familiar with others guys after leading the school's summer hockey program.
“I know they did some dry-land training, stretching and other exercises,” Amaral said. “They also held a lot of video sessions, where they broke down game films. I think that was a big part of it, the off-ice stuff. When you're practicing on the ice, you're very limited in time; you only get about 50 minutes, and that extra time they spent together was a change in their previous culture.
“Obviously, the kids had the chemistry, and they were winning, so the bonding that needs to take place was that much easier … The kids had to trust in the system presented by the coaching staff, but they also had to put in the work to get the results they achieved. I don't think it would've been a .500 team without that hard work and effort.
“They were really young; I think they only had three seniors with any real playing time, but, boy, did they gel at the right time!
“I know Kevin is grateful for the support our administration gave him. He knows it went a long way in developing a state champion. He's very appreciative of that because the support gave him some liberty and creativity in instituting his program.”
Physical education teacher Jon Stringfellow went to Friday night's tilt with his children, not to mention his mom and dad, former varsity football coach Bill Stringfellow. He claimed he couldn't make Sunday's contest, but did find out about the triumph via text message at 3:07 p.m.
“You know, this is really cool; hopefully, they'll be able to hold that hockey program together, given the economic climate in the city,” offered Stringfellow, a 1984 EP grad. “There have been rumors hockey may be dropped along with the elimination of middle school sports, but I guess all that's still up in the air.
“A lot of the guys came in with their medals hanging around their necks and wearing their state championship T-shirts,” he continued. “There's been some enthusiasm in the school, but – being the fact that Game 3 was held on a Sunday – there wasn't the same kind of buildup to it like Friday night's game had.
“I wish I had been there because they're all Townies; anytime a Townie team wins a state title, it's something truly special. I know it means tons more to the players and coaches.”

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