WOONSOCKET --- Pilgrim didn’t win the battle of numbers on Friday night, but the Patriots won a very big game against Cumberland, a ‘W’ that vaulted them over the Clippers and into first place in the Division II-North standings.
Senior center Cody Weaver’s second goal of the game with 2:14 to play in the game lifted the visiting Patriots to a hard-fought 3-2 triumph in a battle of two shorthanded teams at Adelard Arena.
The Patriots, who improve to 9-2-1, now have the same mark as the Clippers, but also own an extra point in the standings because of an overtime loss to the St. Raphael/Providence Country Day co-op team earlier in the season.
And Pilgrim, which fields one of the smallest rosters in the state (16 players), only suited up 14 for the showdown, but got the job done by getting all of its scoring from their first line of Weaver, Nick McGuirl, and Ryan Oatley and a brilliant 37-save effort from goalie Ian Giuttari.
The hosts, meanwhile, had five scratches to their lineup and dressed a season-low 16 players, and one of the scratches was their chief scoring threat, senior center and captain Mike Kinch, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.
Another top-flight scorer, senior right wing and assistant captain Ryan Huber, remained sidelined with a fractured back, and he and Kinch, who entered the weekend the second-leading scorer in Division II with 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists), represent 40 percent of the Clippers’ goals this season.
“We’re hurt,” added Cumberland coach Mark Andreozzi, who only had two seniors in his lineup. “I’m down two of my best players and playing freshmen on ‘D’ and up front, but the kids played hard.
“[Pilgrim] is a good team and they came to play, but we were in the game the whole time. You cant be disappointed with the way we played. Obviously, we wanted to win -- we always talk about competing and getting better -- but I can’t knock the kids for the way they played. They played their hearts out.”
Quality opportunities were hard to come by during the first 65 percent of this contest, as Giuttari and Cumberland goalie Patrick Noke (32 saves) did their part and their defensemen did a fine job clearing out any rebounds in front of them. The Clippers also managed to hit the post twice with shots.
But with 55.6 seconds to play in the second period, junior right wing Andrew Dulac came through with an unassisted goal to give the Clippers the lead. He dug out a loose puck along the boards behind the Patriots’ net and wrapped it around the net, and stuffed it between Giuttari’s right pad and the post.
But the lead didn’t last long. The Patriots knotted the contest 45 seconds into the last period when McGuirl, the league’s top scorer, struck for an unassisted goal of his own, his 20th of the season.
At 3:07, the Clippers reclaimed the lead when Elliot Ray stole the puck from a Pilgrim defenseman on the side of the net and squeezed a shot past Giuttari, but 26 seconds later, the Pilgrim again responded with the equalizer on a goal by Weaver that came during a scrum for the puck in front of the net.
The score stayed at 2-2 until Weaver netted his game-winner off a pass from McGuirl. With 1:27, Andreozzi yanked Noke from the net in favor of a sixth attacker, but all the Clippers could manage was three shots on Giuttari.
The Clippers face another very important contest tonight at 9 p.m., one that could drop them into third place in the standings, because they will head to the West Warwick Civic Center to face red-hot Coventry, which improved to 9-1 by routing the PCD/SRA co-op team, 10-0.
The Knotty Oakers now sit a point behind the Clippers in the standings, and they haven’t lost since suffering a season-opening 2-1 defeat to the Patriots.
They have outscored their opponents by a 72-7 margin in their nine straight wins, and the closest game they had during this stretch was a 3-0 win over the Clippers back on Jan. 14 that knocked them from the unbeaten ranks.