PROVIDENCE – In three previous tilts this season, East Providence High had outscored league rival Mount Hope High by a 13-5 count, including a 4-3 triumph in the initial game of this R.I. Division III Tournament best-of-three finals set.
Townies' mentor Kevin Croke had hoped for a similar, hefty offensive output during Game 2 at Schneider Arena; with it, EP would clinch a much-desired state championship.
The Huskies, however, had other ideas on Friday night. They equaled the amount of goals posted in those former losses to EP and coasted to a 5-2 triumph before a vociferous crowd at Providence College's Schneider Arena.
Senior forward Nick Salzano recorded two goals, classmate and tri-captain Gian DiMezza a goal and assist and junior Zachary Minior three assists in the triumph, one that forced a rubber-game slated for Sunday at 1:30 p.m. back at Schenider Arena.
“We had 24 hours to recover (from Thursday night's 4-3 playoff win), but I don't think the kids got much sleep; I know I didn't,” Croke deadpanned. “I just hope the kids don't do much on St. Patty's Day, that they get some rest.
“A lot of these kids on Mount Hope are all seniors and juniors, and they've been here (to the state tourney) before,” he added. “We're here wide-eyed because we haven't got the same track record. Honestly, I think they got our forwards spun around, and we had problems finding the puck. They didn't have as much (difficulty).
“Normally, our game is to skate down the ice and be aggressive, but we weren't that aggressive (Friday night). I don't know if it was fatigue or the setting. They just controlled our sticks. I tell our kids all the time, 'Sticks control the puck.' They just had it, and we didn't.”
Mount Hope didn't need much time to grab a 1-0 cushion, as senior Bill Egge scored on a wrist shot off a rebound at 4:16 of the initial stanza. Minior and junior Justin Correia assisted on the goal.
With 7:26 remaining on the clock, the Huskies had outshot the Townies, 10-0, and EP didn't register its first until senior tri-captain Ryan Barry hit the left post with a slap shot at the 4:59 mark.
But they did knot it at 1-1 with 2:28 left. Freshman Ryan Costa took a feed from Barry, looped behind Mount Hope sophomore netminder Matt Wilson and jammed the puck just inside the right post.
Only 1:55 into the second period, Costa flew in on a breakaway and fired a wrist shot from deep inside the left circle at Wilson, but the goalie made a sprawling save; and, at the 3:45 mark, it seemed the Townies had snatched a 2-1 cushion when junior Kevin Hall outhustled two Huskies' defensemen and lifted a shot that looked to hit the back of the net.
Officials, however, didn't respond to the crowd, and play continued.
They did whistle Minior for an interference infraction at 7:26, and freshman Kyle Marquis for holding exactly three minutes later – they were the only penalties of the contest – but neither team could take advantage of the power-play opportunity.
Mount Hope broke the 1-1 deadlock a mere 1:25 into the third when Salzano tipped in sophomore Ross Hogan's wrist shot. Hogan had fired on net from outside the left circle, and Salzano – stationed at the left post – knocked it home.
The Townies tied it up once more at 3:24, courtesy of Barry's ability to tap it past Wilson. Kevin Hall and junior Paul Lukas assisted on the tally, but the Huskies needed only 25 seconds to take the lead for good when senior forward Steve Vaccaro knocked in Correia's feed.
Exactly four minutes later, Mount Hope's DiMezza drilled a wrist shot at sophomore goalie Mark LeValley, who made the save. Salzano pounced on the rebound and rifled a wrister from the high slot over LeValley's right shoulder for the 4-2 advantage.
DiMezza closed the scoring with 4:11 left, Minior recording the assist.
Croke pulled LeValley (17 saves) not long after that fifth goal, and replaced him with senior Shawn Medeiros, who made one save.
“I felt halfway through the second period, we had control of the game,” Croke sighed after the contest. “I mean, they had to win. It was a do-or-die situation for them … I think once they went up (3-2), it took the wind out of our sails.
“I haven't talked to the kids yet, but, when I do, I'll just tell them, 'Good job,'” he added. “I'll also tell them to rest up, that we're still alive, and we will play again Sunday.”