PAWTUCKET — It’s been no secret that the numbers game hasn’t been too kind to Tolman this season, and that was evident two Friday nights ago when the Tigers suffered a 4-2 loss to Mount Hope at Lynch Arena.
While the Huskies dressed a full complement of players, the Tigers were only able to suit up 11, including a backup goaltender.
That number of players was the lowest of any team (boys or girls) in the state that took the ice for a game this year, but since that night, a couple of positive things took place that promise to make the Tigers’ future a little bit brighter.
First, Tolman coach Steve Reynolds, who also serves as an assistant coach on the school’s varsity baseball team, added three members from that team to the roster and molded them into a third line that he hopes will add depth and see a bit of quality ice time down the stretch.
And on Wednesday night, Reynolds, athletic director John Scanlon, parents of the players, the Tigers’ sophomores and juniors, and a few friends of the team met at the high school to discuss the team’s future.
“There will be a team next year and on-going discussions about the year after that,” Reynolds said after the meeting. “The parents are concerned about the future of their kids playing hockey, and (the meeting) was to assure that there will be a team next year that’s self-sufficient and with no co-op needed.”
The Tigers also received another plus in the form of a bye week and 15 days to rest any bumps or bruises they may have and get in some quality practices. They won’t return to action until tomorrow at 8 p.m. when they host Scituate at Lynch Arena.
“We’ve had some great practices, but we just had to scale back some things,” said Reynolds. “We don’t have the bodies, so you have to get a little creative with certain drills. In the past, we tried to scrimmage a lot, but now we do 3-on-3 in-zone scrimmages, things like that.”
The bad news regarding the team’s future is that next season (for the second year in a row), Reynolds doesn’t see any incoming freshmen joining the club, and if that is indeed true, the 2012-13 edition of the Tigers could be a cast of strictly battle-tested juniors and seniors.
“In a city like this, everyone’s playing football, soccer, and basketball,” noted Reynolds. “As everyone knows, hockey’s a very expensive sport, and it’s one of those sports when you really have to start at four, five, or six years of age. Families in this city don’t have kids playing youth hockey.”
While Reynolds was discussing his team’s future before an afternoon practice at Lynch Arena, he also talked about the present, which record-wise, has been good for the Tigers, who are 5-3 and in third place in the nine-team league.
“I think we can compete with anybody despite our numbers,” said Reynolds. “We’ve had down years in the past, but this year, we have a very good group of hockey players and a strong goalie.”
The Tigers’ first line is one of the best in the division. It’s centered by senior Kody Casavant, who led the division with 34 goals last winter and is atop the league again in goals (16) and points (24).
The wings joining Casavant are sophomore Jared Pedro, who has followed up his brilliant freshman season (14 goals, 21 assists) by adding 10 goals and six assists this season, and sophomore Ted Reall, who is second on the team with seven assists.
The second line has junior Brandon Speight centering sophomore Kristopher Wallace and junior Ryan Deighan, with senior Anthony Bisbano also seeing time on that line, as well as the first, and the Tigers’ new-look third line offers juniors Joe Fernandes, Robert Lima, and Jason Maynard.
“They’re all new to hockey,” Reynolds said of his ‘orange’ line. “We’re just trying to grab some athletes who are interested in playing hockey. We have them skating with us now, and we’re going to run them through the summer hockey program, and hopefully, they will be able to contribute for us.”
On defense, Tolman has a terrific tandem in juniors Chris Baldwin and Ryan Pedro. Kevin Tracey, a junior forward, had also been filling in on the blue line because Tolman’s other defenseman, senior Zach Belasco, had been out with an injury, but is expected to be back in action this weekend.
In goal is senior Stephane Meunier, who is second in the division in shutouts (three) and third in goals against average (2.59) and save percentage (.892), and junior Jared DaSilva is the backup.
While the Tigers, barring the unexpected, should be one of the six clubs in the division to make the playoffs, they would like to nab the second seed, which brings a bye into the semifinals and a well-deserved weekend of rest.
All arrows point toward the defending champion Johnston/North Providence co-op team, which is unbeaten at 9-0, landing the top seed, but the No. 2 seed is there for the taking for the Tigers, Mount Hope (6-2), and East Providence (5-2).
“In the playoffs, you’re stepping up to the 15-minute periods,” Reynolds was quick to report. “It’s a physical game, and anything can happen on any given night, but if you could get a bye, you could get another solid week of practice. We’re realistically looking at that (second) spot as a possibility, and if we can land there, that would be great.”
And if that falls through?
“Again, once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen,” said Reynolds. “And we have a lot of one-game weekends during the second half of the year, so hopefully, we can get hot, grab some wins, and roll into the playoffs on a high note.”