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PAWTUCKET --- For the third straight year, Tolman High will be sporting a very young squad, and this one may be the youngest of the bunch â with seven sophomores and three freshmen making up the bulk of its 16-man roster.
In Coach Speak, the word âyoungâ is usually synonymous with âbadâ, but with this yearâs Tigers, that doesnât appear to be the case.
âWeâve very young, but experienced,â Tolman coach Steve Reynolds said after Thursday afternoonâs practice at Lynch Arena. âWe have a good group of hockey players that have been around the game, understand (the game), and are willing to put in the hard work.â
That hard work has been evident in the first couple of weekends of the season. Tolman is currently 2-1 and in a three-way tie for second place (behind the unbeaten Johnston/North Providence co-op team) in the Division III ranks with Mount Hope and Cranston East.
âWe have a good amount of confidence building in the locker room,â admitted Reynolds, âand hopefully we can keep going in that direction and build a winning atmosphere.â
The Tigers, who produced just 29 goals en route to a last-place 4-14 finish in the Division III-North circuit last year, have scored 15 times in their three games, a 4-2 win over West Warwick, a 9-0 shutout of Warwick Vets, and a 3-2 loss to Cranston East.
Tolmanâs fabulous first line of senior center and captain Patrick Gray, junior right wing Kody Casavant (who scored 10 goals a year ago), and freshman left wing Jared Pedro has been responsible for nine of the goals. Each forward has scored three times, and Gray and Pedro each also have four assists.
The second line is an all-sophomore unit that features Kevin Tracey, Ryan Deighan, and Brandon Speight, and the third line is a forechecking group that contains junior Anthony Bisbano and freshman Edward Reall and Kristopher Wallace.
Defensively, the Tigers have certainly made their mark in the early going, and no player has shined brighter that junior goaltender Stephane Meunier, who has turned away 59 of the 64 shots he faced. He is backed up by sophomore Jared Da Silva.
âStephane has done a great job,â offered Reynolds. âWeâre a different team when heâs in net.â
Senior Dylan Miniati and sophomore Chris Baldwin are the Tigersâ top two defensemen. Junior Zachary Belasco and sophomore Ryan Pedro (who also plays forward) are also on the blue line, as is sophomore Matt Mooney, who is currently out with a concussion.
âWeâre skating our top people at the positions they belong,â noted Reynolds. âAs long as we put our best product on the ice, which is what weâve been able to do this season, weâll do fine.â
The division, which is now one big nine-team league instead of six-team North and South brackets, should present the Tigers with plenty of challenges.
Defending champ Mount Hope, which graduated just two players, appears to be the team to beat, but the Johnston/North Providence co-op squad has stormed out to a 4-0 start by outscoring its opponents by a 28-7 margin. And donât forget to throw always-competitive East Providence and Cranston East into the mix.
Nevertheless, Tolmanâs goal remains the same as it has been each and every year â make the grade for the playoffs and compete for the championship. The Tigers had been absent from the playoffs for the past two years, but this third year may be the charm.
âThatâs our goal every year,â admitted Reynolds. âWe want to improve every game, but obviously, our No. 1 goal is the playoffs. And if we get there, get a hot goalie, and get a couple of bounces, anything can happen. We have the guys in that locker room that can (reach the playoffs) this year, so weâll see what happens.â