PAWTUCKET --- If Tolman High and the Johnston/North Providence co-op team end up meeting in two weekends in the Division III semifinals, it should make for a truly entertaining best-of-three series.
For the second time in seven days, the two teams battled tooth and nail in an exciting high school game, but unlike their meeting last Saturday, this contest didn’t end with a winner or a loser.
Tolman junior goaltender Stephane Meunier turned away 31 shots, including a penalty shot by Robert Tonucci in the second period, to help the Tigers earn a spirited 1-1 tie with the first-place Panthers at Lynch Arena.
The Panthers, who lead the division with a 13-1-1 record, had recorded a 4-1 victory over the Tigers last Saturday night in a game that saw Johnston/N.P. break a 1-1 draw with two goals in the first 71 seconds of the last period and add an empty-netter with 20 seconds to play.
While that duel was exciting, this one offered plenty of hard hitting and a little bit of everything else, from Tonucci’s penalty shot to a third-period fight that led to game disqualifications for two players and a remarkable ‘Senior Night’ ceremony that honored Tolman’s two seniors, Pat Gray and Dylan Miniati.
But the highlight of the evening was the retiring of the uniform number of the late Kyle Coutu, a 2009 graduate and a U.S. Marines soldier who was killed on Feb. 18, 2010 during combat operations in Afghanistan.
Coutu, who Tolman coach Steve Reynolds described as a ‘jack of all trades’ that saw time as a forward, defenseman, and goaltender during the 2008-09 campaign (his only season with the Tigers), wore No. 21.
“This was nice,” added Reynolds. “To see the school retire his football jersey and now his hockey jersey, obviously, he deserves that and more. I’ve always been a fan of Kyle’s and I wish his family the best as well.”
The Tigers gave a splendid performance that would have made Coutu proud, and it was an effort that helped the team bring its record to 8-6-1 heading into tonight’s 9 p.m. game back at Lynch against East Providence High.
“We came into this game with a playoff mentality,” said Reynolds. “Anytime you play a first-place team, you want to win, but we worked hard and we’ll take the point.”
The Townies, who used two goals in the last minute to net a 5-3 victory over the Tigers last Monday in Smithfield, came into the night with a 9-5 mark and will be the Tigers’ opponent in next weekend’s best-of-three quarterfinals.
The hosts carried a surge of momentum from the pre-game festivities into the game, and just 11 seconds into play, the Tigers broke on the board on a goal by Kody Casavant that was set up by Gray and was his league-leading 29th of the season.
Johnston/North Providence tied the contest three minutes later when Tonucci ripped a backhand past Meunier that came immediately after Dan Evans won a faceoff in the Tigers’ end, and for the rest of the night, the large gathering on hand was treated to several close calls by both teams.
Casavant had two quality chances to score the go-ahead goal and become the first Tolman player in more than a decade to net 30 regular-season goals. He clanged the crossbar midway through the second period and was denied on a breakaway 2:37 into the third period by goalie Matt Domaingue (21 saves).
While Domaingue made some nice stops, so did Meunier, who turned away a pair of partial breakaways during regulation and a breakaway bid by Evans in overtime, but his biggest stop was clearly Tonucci’s penalty shot with 3:44 to go in the second period.
Tonucci, who received the penalty shot when he was tripped from behind on a partial breakaway, tried to skate in and beat Meunier with a backhand, but the Tolman junior denied him with a low right pad save.
“Like I’ve said earlier, I don’t think Stephane’s played his best, and that’s not a knock on him,” remarked Reynolds. “but when he gets a hot streak, there’s no one better in my mind. He’s played very well the past couple of weeks, so hopefully he can build on that tomorrow and heading into the playoffs.”
The Tigers, who will be short a body tonight because of the automatic one-game suspension to the player who got ejected for fighting, will also be minus another player -- for the rest of the season, sophomore forward Kevin Tracey.
Less than four minutes into the middle period, Tracey broke his left arm when he was checked into the boards by a Panther defenseman. He was helped off the ice and into the Tigers’ nearby locker room, but he was eventually taken by an ambulance to a nearby hospital.
Johnston/N.P. 1 - 0 - 0 - 0 -- 1
Tolman 1 - 0 - 0 - 0 -- 1
First period: T -- Kody Casavant (Patrick Gray), :11; J/NP -- Robert Tonucci (Dan Evans), 3:18. Penalties: J/NP, 2-3.
Second period: No scoring. Penalties: J/NP, 2-3; T, 3-4.5.
Third period: No scoring. Penalties: J/NP, 1-1.5; 3-7.
Overtime: No scoring. Penalties: None.
Shots on goal: Johnston/North Providence 32, Tolman 22. Goalie saves: J/NP -- Matt Domaingue (21 saves); T -- Stephane Meunier (31 saves).