BURRILLVILLE — With the Division III playoffs a weekend away and teams across the division trying to play their best hockey down the stretch, Tolman could ill afford to put forth the performance it did against Ponaganset on Thursday afternoon.
The Tigers struggled with penalties throughout the first period and took just 17 shots on the Chieftains en route to a 3-1 loss at Levy Arena that finalized the league’s postseason picture.
The loss cements the Tigers (10-4-1) as the No. 3 seed in the tournament that begins on Friday, March 1, and the Chieftains, with their third straight win, are 8-7 and will be the No. 5 seed.
The West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich co-op team (14-0) is obviously the top seed, followed by defending champion East Providence (12-2-1), Tolman, Narragansett (10-5), Ponaganset, and Cranston East (6-9) making up the six-team field.
The Tigers, who entered the game with wins in six of their last seven outings and finish their regular season on Saturday with an 8 p.m. contest at Lynch Arena against one-win Warwick Vets, were hoping a strong showing on Thursday against the Chieftains would help them prep for the playoffs, but instead, they delivered the opposite effort.
Instead, it was the Chieftains who excelled and looked absolutely nothing like the team that suffered an 8-1 loss to the Tigers back in mid-December. Senior Mike Giorgio, the Chieftains’ top scorer, netted his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season to propel the winners, who outshot the Tigers, 30-17.
“They took it to us,” Tolman head coach Steve Reynolds said of the Chieftains. “That’s the bottom line. They’re vastly improved from the first time we saw them. They won the individual battles and they were beating us to the puck for two periods.”
To make matters worse for the Tigers, they got tagged for four penalties in the first 8:14, and the Chieftains responded by netting a pair of power-play goals, the first by Giorgio at 5:02 and the second by Corey Fanning (off a pass from Giorgio) at 8:30.
“The bottom line is we have to stay out of the penalty box,” offered Reynolds, who had just 12 players in uniform. “We were in the box that whole period and we don’t have the bodies to cover those penalties. We’ll learn from it, and hopefully we’ll be better in the future.”
The Tigers did their best to cut down their penalties in the second period, but they only managed to take three shots during the entire 12-minute session. The Chieftains, on the other hand, took 11 and scored on one of them at 6:36 when Giorgio flipped a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Tolman goalie Jared DaSilva.
The Tigers produced their goal 2:54 into the final period when Kevin Tracey took a pass from Chris Baldwin and rifled a long slap shot that zipped through traffic in front of the Chieftains’ net and squeezed past goalie Tyler Petrella. But Tolman managed just four more shots the rest of the game.
The Tigers, to their defense, were playing without their star junior center, Jared Pedro, who sat out the contest with a minor injury and is expected to miss Saturday’s finale against Warwick Vets. Pedro, who scored his 200th career point last weekend, is among the division leaders in scoring with 23 goals and as many assists.
“Jared dictates a lot of our offensive play, and he’s on our power play and penalty-kill,” said Reynolds. “He’s a big piece to what we’ve been doing all year, so we have to step up and find someone to fill his role. Hopefully he’ll be back to make a playoff run with us.”
But Reynolds refused to use Pedro’s absence as an excuse for the loss to the Chieftains, and he hopes his team puts this defeat in the rearview mirror and shifts its focus on the near future.
“Ponaganset’s a good hockey team, but I expected a little more out of our guys,” added Reynolds. “You want to head into the playoffs on a different note. This was a tough test and not the outcome we wanted.”