PAWTUCKET — One look at Tolman High’s roster and the questions immediately surface.
First of all, where are the underclassmen on it? Did someone forget to type their names on the roster? After all, there are only 13 players on it. You can’t possibly skate a hockey team with that many players, can you?
Well, after two weekends of action, the Tigers are proof that, yes, you can skate, and do so successfully, with a number that low.
But unfortunately for Tolman, no one forgot about the freshmen and sophomores -- because there are none. For the second season in a row, no ninth-graders joined the team, and next year’s Class of 2017 will also contain no hockey players.
Translation: When this season comes to a close and the eight seniors on this season’s team graduates, it will mark the end of a tradition-rich program at Tolman that produced six Suburban B/Met C/Division III state titles, some of the city’s best high school players, and countless memories on its home Lynch Arena ice.
It seems like yesterday, but it was a generation ago when the city of Pawtucket housed two public-school hockey teams in crosstown Shea High and the Tigers. But in 1987, a year after winning its only Met C state title, the Raiders skated its last shift due to a lack of bodies, and 26 years later, the Tigers will be meeting the same doom.
“This is it,” Tolman coach Steve Reynolds said after his team’s Tuesday afternoon practice at Lynch. “We’re done. Everyone in the locker room knows this is it. Last year, there was a lot of talk about where the program was going and if we were going to co-op with someone, but this year, we were told this is it. This is the last ride, I guess you can say.”
With this being the last ride, the Tigers are determined to take it all the way to Providence College’s Schneider Arena for a shot at the Division III championship. And judging by the way they’ve played during the first two weekends of the season, they may very well have a good chance to get there.
The Tigers skate into tonight’s 9:30 p.m. showdown against neighboring foe and defending champion East Providence with a 4-0 mark that has seen them outscore their opponents by a 28-8 count. Tolman’s closest game was a 4-3 overtime victory over Narragansett back on Dec. 8 in Pawtucket.
Joining the Tigers atop the standings with the same record is the West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich co-op team, which has won its games by a 36-5 margin. The two teams don’t meet until a week from today in a 9:30 p.m. showdown at Lynch, right near the tail end of a busy stretch of games for the Tigers.
“All through December, we’re back-to-back each weekend,” reported Reynolds. “Somewhere in January, we have two full weekends off, but we’ve already played four games and we still have four more games left this month.”
The eight-games-in-four-weekends stretch can be a tough grind for any hockey team, but extra difficult for one carrying just 13 players, only three which are full-time defensemen – senior tri-captains Chris Baldwin, Ryan Pedro, and Kevin Tracey, and one that is a goaltender, senior and first-year starter Jared DaSilva.
“Those guys have been in our program for four years,” Reynolds noted of his tri-captains, who have also seen bits and pieces of time at the forward spots. “They’re physical and hard-working, and they set the tone.”
The Tigers’ lack of depth on the blue line was put to the test last weekend when Pedro was forced to miss games against Ponaganset and Cranston East with a minor wrist injury. But Reynolds filled in the void by giving Baldwin and Tracey yeoman’s work and dropping two of his forwards, Jared Pedro and Brandon Speight, back for an occasional spell.
“Ryan’s out here skating with us and he’ll be a full-go this weekend,” added Reynolds. “It was tough not having him out there, and for us to grab two wins with him out was very nice.”
Speaking of Pedro and Speight, they join Teddy Reall on the Tigers’ high-octane first line, with Speight, a senior and another four-year player, centering the two juniors, who are both three-year players. Reall is on the right wing, and Pedro, who has eight goals and seven assists this year, is on the left.
The second line also has a wealth of experience, with junior third-year player Kris Wallace centering senior four-year skater and right wing Ryan Deighan and senior left wing Robert Lima. Deighan has been one of the pleasant surprises to this season. After scoring just two goals last year, he has broken out in a big way with nine goals and four assists.
“Ryan’s come a long way,” admitted Reynolds. “He’s a senior now, and he’s definitely more confident. His physical game has picked up and he’s just having a great year. It’s a tribute to his hard work.”
Lima, meanwhile, was part of the Tigers’ infamous “Agent Orange” line that joined the team near the end of the season when Reynolds, who was scrambling to add an extra line and some much-needed depth on the roster, picked up Lima and two other players from the school’s baseball team, where Reynolds also serves as an assistant coach. Lima didn’t hit the stat sheet last season, but this season, he’s third on the team with three goals.
Jason Maynard, another “Agent Orange” alumnus, has also seen time on the second line, but most of the time, he’s been leading a third line that contains a pair of newcomers to the program, juniors Jared Goyette and Richie Marshall, who are adjusting to High School Hockey 101 and “have had a couple of spot shifts here and there,” said Reynolds.
As for Goyette and Marshall, as well as the other three juniors on the team, another question pops up. What will happen to them next year when Tolman is without a team? Will they be able to finish their high school careers as seniors by joining a one-year co-op with another school?
“From what I understand, the (R.I.) Interscholastic League said they will be able to play hockey next year for somebody,” remarked Reynolds. “Where, I don’t know, but (the RIIL) promised that they will try to get those guys a place to play so they can finish out their high school careers.”
Of course, that’s next year. There’s a hockey season still going on at Tolman, a pretty good one so far, and one that its members hope ends with championship glory and one final glorious skate around Schneider Arena.
“We’re going to try to do what we can do,” added Reynolds. “Hopefully, we can keep going in the same direction, stay consistent, and keep improving. Like I said earlier in the season, our goal obviously every year is to make the playoffs and then we’ll go from there. Anything can happen.”