PAWTUCKET — Defending Division III state champion Johnston/North Providence left Lynch Arena on Saturday night knowing that it has a fight on its hands the rest of this season with Tolman.
The upstart Tigers gave the JNP Co-Op squad all it could handle before losing 6-5 in overtime on a breakaway goal by Jon Alsfeld.
Tolman had fallen behind 3-0 and 4-1 before rallying with three goals in the third period to send the game into overtime. Two of those goals came on slap shots by Kody Casavant. The tying goal came after a brilliant rush by Jared Pedro on a nifty backhand with 28 seconds left in regulation. It was Pedro’s third goal of the game.
“We came back all night,” Tolman coach Steve Reynolds said after the game ended. “Early in the game, they were just beating us to the puck, but we settled in nicely. My hat is off to their goaltender (Matt Domaingue). We had a lot of scoring opportunities against him and he stopped most of them.”
Tolman goalie Stephane Meunier also stood tall in goal for most of the night, making 25 saves in an evenly-matched game that saw the Tigers hold a slight 32-31 advantage in shots on goal.
The visitors scored a stunning goal 18 seconds into the first period when Mackenzie Olink drilled a hard slap shot that seemed to bounce off Meunier’s mask and settle in the goal before the goalie could locate the puck.
JNP scored at the 7:02 mark on a goal by Nicholas Fournier and then Alsfeld made it 3-0 slightly more than two minutes later.
Tolman gave itself a chance when Casavant set up Pedro for the Tigers’ first goal with just seven seconds left in the first period. The same combination would strike again with 13 seconds left in the middle period to cut JNP’s advantage to 4-2.
The third period featured end-to-end hockey and plenty of physical hockey from both sides. Casavant scored two goals on slap shots from the right circle that Domaingue never saw.
“We focused on Casavant,” JNP co-coach David Accetturo said later. “You have to be aware of when he is on the ice. We don’t normally do that on defense but he’s one of the special players in the league.”
Tolman still trailed 5-4 in the final minute when Casavant was whistled off the ice for a 90-second penalty. Here’s where Pedro really stepped up, taking the puck at mid-ice and storming in on Domaingue, flipping a backhanded shot over the goalie’s shoulder to tie the game with 28 seconds left in regulation.
“I like how we responded tonight,” Reynolds said after talking to his disappointed and extremely angry group of players in the locker room after the game. (The Tigers don’t like losing.) “I think we proved we can play with them tonight.”
Casavant came charging out of the penalty box just five seconds into overtime, taking with him the hopes for a victory over the unbeaten state champs. Tolman got the puck in front of the visitors’ goal for one brief flurry with no shot emerging from the scrum. And suddenly, here was Alsfeld breaking free at center ice and skating in alone on Meunier, slipping in the winning goal and quieting the boisterous Lynch Arena crowd.
Tolman fell to 3-2 in Division III while JNP improved to 5-0. It was their second loss to the D-III leaders this season. JNP took a 4-1 decision in the season opener.
The Tigers, who opened their season by going 3-1 in four road games, host West Warwick on Friday night at Lynch Arena before taking a break for Christmas.