WOONSOCKET -- The senior class is one of its smallest in a number of years.
The number of players that graduated from last season’s Division II-North championship club, including six of the top eight scorers and one of the finest goaltenders in the team’s history, was one of its largest.
And several players who are featured in key positions have little or no varsity experience.
But despite all this, Cumberland has been the talk of the division and the area’s only team with a ‘0’ in the loss column.
The Clippers are coming off a big weekend in which they beat two difficult opponents on the road, previously-unbeaten Pilgrim and the new-look St. Raphael/Providence Country Day/Wheeler co-op squad, and raised their record to 5-0.
It’s only the second time in the last 12 seasons that Cumberland has zoomed out to a start like this, and it’s also a start that hasn’t been easy to accomplish, but thanks to some hard work, solid defense, and a couple of opportune goals, that’s where the Clippers currently find themselves.
“We’re happy where we are, but it’s not the season,” Cumberland coach Mark Andreozzi said before his Clippers’ Tuesday night practice at Adelard Arena. “There’s still 13 more (games) to go. Our goal is not to go undefeated. Our goal is to be better every day.
“I wish I could say, ‘This is the reason why we’re 5-0,’ but our thing is just to work hard every day, work together for a purpose, and get everyone rolling in the right direction. So far, everyone seems to be buying into that whole thing.”
Although the Clippers are sitting pretty at 5-0, Andreozzi knows that the road to get there was a very tough one to ride.
“We had some close games,” he added. “We had a 1-0 game against Toll Gate that could have gone either way. We scored with 12 seconds left on a power play to beat Pilgrim (2-1), and that’s a game that could also have gone either way, and our game the next night at St. Ray’s (a 5-2 win) was also tough.”
Young, inexperienced teams usually do not win close games like that in the first month of a season, and when you look at the Clippers’ roster, it is very green.
“We have three freshmen playing defense on almost a regular shift,” reported Andreozzi. “And a lot of the juniors and sophomores that are playing now didn’t get a lot of ice time last year because we had 10 seniors.”
Of the Clippers’ four seniors, the big name is center Mike Kinch, who currently leads the entire division in scoring with 17 points (seven goals and 10 assists). He also led the team with 13 regular-season goals as a sophomore and a junior.
While his knack for putting the puck in the net makes him a valuable player, Andreozzi also noted that his leadership as the Clippers’ captain is another one of his strengths.
“The thing about Michael is he has really grown into himself,” said Andreozzi. “He just accepted his role and what he is to this team. He’s the captain and he owns everything that’s in that (locker) room, and he and Ryan Huber have really taken ownership of being leaders.”
Huber and Nick Rainville are the team’s top two defensemen, and while Huber has added some scoring punch with four goals and as many assists, Rainville has been a welcomed addition since missing most of last season with a broken hand.
“He’s done well,” Andreozzi noted of Rainville. “We knew he was a good hockey player, but we didn’t know what we would get out of him after almost a year off from hockey.”
The fourth senior is netminder Pat Noke, who after serving as a backup to Michaelangelo Federici the past three seasons, is thriving as a starter. He currently leads all Division II goaltenders with 140 or more minutes of action in goals-against-average (1.40) and save percentage (.943).
As for some more of the Clippers’ top contributors, juniors Andrew Dulac and Matthew Rzemien, who skate with Kinch on the first line, have teamed up to notch five goals and eight assists, and the second line of juniors Jaryd Dulieu and Elliot Ray, and sophomore Andrew Pluta has also been effective.
Defensively, junior Robert DeOrsey has also played well on the blue line, and freshmen Kyle McKenna, Tom Malloy, and Jeremy Bodington have done a fine job.
While the Clippers have the weekend off, the schedule gets tougher when they return to action. A week from Friday, they will renew acquaintances with Toll Gate at Adelard Arena, and when 2012 begins, they will welcome it with games against Coventry (3-1) and a North Smithfield team that has played much better than its 0-3 record indicates.
“Where are we going to end up?” asked Andreozzi. “I don’t know. We could easily go 5-13 by the end of the year. But the kids are working hard and it’s a good group, and while we’re happy with our start, we know we’re not where we want to be. Like I said, we just want to keep working hard and get better every day.”