LINCOLN — Although she didn't want to, Lauren Hervieux did a lot of watching from the sidelines as her Lincoln/Cumberland Co-op teammates competed.
Naturally, the premier senior defenseman would've preferred to take the ice with them and help in her usual ways – battling in the corners, stealing pucks, squelching 2-on-1 breakaways.
She couldn't, of course, after dislocating and fracturing her kneecap at a Lincoln varsity soccer practice back on Nov. 7, the afternoon before a pivotal state tournament semifinal.
“The game was supposed to have been played that night, but it rained and it was postponed, so we practiced in our (LHS) gym,” Hervieux explained. “We were in a 'soccer volleyball' drill, and I went up for a header. When I landed, my foot stuck and my knee bent the wrong way.
“The first thing I asked the guy inside the ambulance was, 'How long do you think I'll be out?'” she added. “I was thinking about soccer, but also hockey. Going through rehab was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. According to doctors, I had to let the bone heal before I could use it again – in any capacity. I mean, I couldn't even put any weight on it for a long time.”
She admitted there were times she missed competing so much, she was brought to tears.
“I've thought a lot about it; I almost didn't go to soccer practice that day because I was supposed to go skate (at a public session) with a couple of my (hockey) teammates,” she noted. “I wanted to get my hockey legs back, but then guilt took over, so I went to soccer (practice).
“It was just a freak accident.”
After experiencing a lot of pain while re-invigorating her knee, Hervieux anxiously prepared for her first tilt back on Jan. 29, but then came another blow. On Jan. 11, with Hervieux in attendance, fellow defenseman Marissa Mancini sustained a concussion in a 7-1 loss to La Salle.
“We didn't know she was hurt until she texted us the next day; that's when we heard she had a concussion and would probably be out for the year,” she said. “I was just about ready to come back and then that took place. I was, like, 'What else can happen?'”
Ernst also was without sophomore center Kathryn Cunningham, who suffered a concussion while playing in a Cumberland soccer tilt and still hasn't been cleared by doctors for contact.
Those are all reasons why the Lions – as of Wednesday night – have compiled a less-than-auspicious 1-10-1 Division II/DeCosta League record.
He nevertheless believes his ever-improving club can buck the odds and secure a playoff berth.
“Oh, man, if I had those three (on the ice) for the entire season, c'mon!” Ernst stated of Hervieux, Mancini and Cunningham. “It'd be an unbelievable team! They're three of the most talented players in the state, never mind our team.”
Because of those injuries, there were times he would field only four or five forwards and two defensemen, some of whom had little varsity playing time.
“We were playing with a thin and young lineup, but – through all that time – I kept putting them out there, and they not only gained experience, but also tremendous stamina,” he said. “I told them how to preserve their energy with some tips, and they've responded. They also have developed an amazing fighting spirit because they were forced into action.”
Hervieux finally returned to the starting lineup on Jan. 29, scoring her squad's first goal in what became a 6-4 loss to the South County (Narragansett/North Kingstown/South Kingstown) Storm at the University of Rhode Island's Boss Arena.
The Lions since have dropped a 3-0 decision to Barrington at Adelard Arena last Saturday, but – undaunted – Ernst and Hervieux remain steadfast in their belief they can earn a post-season bid.
“Yes, we've been marred with injuries, and we haven't been able to use some of our key players for most of the season, but I still think we can get to the tournament,” Ernst stated. “Lauren came back against South County and was spectacular, scoring our first goal. That was something else; after going through extensive therapy and struggling to get back, she came in and scored right away.
“I believe she played almost every minute of that game, just like she did last season (when Lincoln/Cumberland earned a berth in the D-II championship final),” he continued. “I believe in this team for a lot of reasons. Now we're getting really solid goaltending from (sophomores) Michaela Simanski and Jamie Giguere.
“They've improved so much in their shot-blocking abilities, and that's because their technique has gotten so much better. I have to credit my assistants, Tommy Pereira and Bob O'Donnell. Tom has been with me since 1993 when he was a sophomore at Cranston East, and he was the MVP when we won state titles in 1994-95. He's done a superb job with the girls.
“And Bob is a volunteer, but knows a lot about goaltending. He's been crucial to the keepers' improvement as well. Now that Lauren's back, we've been able to use six forwards and two defensemen; that's why our last three games have been so close.”
Ernst pointed to the contest against Cranston Co-op on Jan. 20, one in which his bunch fell by a 3-2 margin, then brought up the game against South County nine days later. The Lions had manufactured numerous opportunities to tie it at 5-5 before the Storm notched a late tally.
Three nights later, on Feb. 1, they took on the Barrington/Mount Hope/Portsmouth Co-op squad (currently in first place at 7-2-3) and lost, 3-0.
“But the significant thing about that one was we gave up three goals in the first period, with two of them coming on power plays,” Ernst said. “We still held them scoreless through the last two periods, and we had one more shot on goal in that time. We were knocking on the door, but just couldn't finish.
“I have no doubt this team is coming along; we may be 1-10 (1-11 overall), but we've been battling in every game recently,” he added. “I refuse to lose any confidence in these girls just because of a few losses. I believe we'll make the playoffs. These kids can skate longer, have more endurance and battle tooth-and-nail for every minute.
“They're vastly improved, too. After Lauren was injured and our season began, she was our captain, so she was with us on the bench for every game. She helped us create that spirit and kept us going. When she finally did suit up, she resumed her leadership, most importantly, on the ice.
“I couldn't see any difference from when she left the ice at Brown (after last winter's championship final series) and that game. She looked the same, skating with the same speed and moves she always did. She and Marissa were the talk of the state finals last year. I had people coming up to me and saying, 'Dick, they never left the ice!' I just responded, 'Yup, those two are my defensemen, and they love doing it!'”
The way he and Hervieux look at it, the Lions must reign in four of their remaining six contests to earn that post-season spot.
“We've got to beat Cranston (at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at the Smithfield rink), then we have a must win against Smithfield (co-op with North Smithfield and Coventry) on Valentine's Day (at West Warwick at 8:30),” he indicated. “We actually have Smithfield twice, as we have them again on Feb. 21 (back at Smithfield rink at 7 p.m.
“We also have one each against Mount St. Charles, Barrington and South County,” he added. “In those games, we'll be slight underdogs, but I think we're on a roll right now. We've got to get off on the right foot (skate?) on Saturday; that will be the key. We're still taking it one game at a time, but that will set the tone for the remaining five.”
Claimed Hervieux: “I think we can get a playoff berth. Now that we have most of the team back and we're set, we're playing better as a team. We've had time to jell, and we've got girls back in their traditional positions.
“I always like to have a positive outlook and attitude, but I think we all do. We're all more confident. Right now, we're playing good hockey, and I'm proud of the way the girls have responded. Now we just have to pick it up a notch for each and every game left.”
Ernst acknowledged it's been one of his more topsy-turvy campaigns, but just won't stop believing.
“It seems like we've faced a lot of adversity or some kind of setback this season, but they've made us stronger,” he offered. “Our team's character has been tested again and again, but it has passed all of them with flying colors. It's because of their perseverance.
“Anybody who does bet against us will probably lose their shirts. I have that much faith in this team.”