BURRILLVILLE — Despite Cumberland High’s amazing run so far this season, North Smithfield refused to be intimidated in a huge Division II-North clash on Friday night.
Head coach Paul Nadeau’s Northmen skated with authority, played with heart and desire for a full 45 minutes and gave the unbeaten Clippers a scare.
In the end, however, junior winger and tri-captain Greg Wellington by his lonesome found the net more often than the hosts as Cumberland strolled out of Levy Arena with a 3-1 triumph.
“North Smithfield came ready to play, and we came out flat,” CHS chief Dr. Mark Andreozzi stated after the win, one that pushed his club to 20-0-0 overall and 17-0-0 in league action. “We just weren’t ready, and that’s a credit to (the Northmen). We needed to be better.
“I thought, during the third period, we were closer to doing things the way we’re capable,” he added. “Now we all have a long night’s sleep to think about how we played before tomorrow.”
Andreozzi had referred to tonight’s showdown against Lincoln, which entered a tilt against pesky St. Raphael/PCD/Wheeler Co-op at 15-1-0 later Friday night. The two league leaders will face off for the II-North crown at 7:30 tonight at Lynch Arena.
The Lions’ lone defeat came at the hands of the Clippers.
“If Lincoln wins, it would move us into a tie, and the top seed from our league would go to goals against,” Andreozzi noted. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. Right now, there’s only two or three goals difference (with Cumberland out in front).”
Nadeau’s crew fell to 13-7-0 overall and 12-6-0 in league action; that’s how its campaign closed.
“No one in that room is surprised; I know we were the underdogs coming into this game,” Nadeau offered. “We as a coaching staff believed we could compete with them, and we did. The thing is, both Cumberland and Lincoln play with consistency, and that’s uncommon for most teams in our league.
“I still told the kids that we can compete with either one of them on any given night, and we were able to stay with them.”
With the score knotted at 1-1, and with Cumberland on a 43-second power play after NS sophomore Josh Labonte had been whistled for a slash, classmate Matt Barrette took an “iffy” high-sticking call just 19 ticks in the final session.
That gave the Clippers a five-on-three advantage, and Wellington took complete advantage.
Just as Labonte had left the box with 14:16 left in regulation, Wellington went top shelf on NS junior keeper Mark Pasquariello to give the visitors a 2-1 cushion.
At the 9:59 mark of the third, CHS senior Josh Santoro took a two-minute call for a hook, giving the Northmen their fourth power-play chance.
Exactly 1:41 after, sophomore Noah Menard rifled a wicked slapper at Leo Lake, but he made an outstanding high glove save.
With 6:23 left, North Smithfield classmate Andrew LaBelle stole the puck in the offensive zone and ripped a try at Lake, who again retaliated with his glove. At the 4:07 mark, Nadeau requested a timeout to talk things over, presumably to explain when Mark Pasquariello should leave the cage for the extra skater.
He did that with 41 ticks remaining, but Wellington sealed the deal with an empty-netter from mid-ice with just 1.5 on the clock. That delivered him the hat trick.
The Northmen dominated the first eight minutes of the initial period, but Wellington nevertheless gave Cumberland a 1-0 cushion at 9:00 of the opening period; he successfully landed a backhand after a feed from sophomore Jake Salisbury to give it a 1-0 lead.
Early in the second, the Clippers survived two infractions, both to Salisbury, but North Smithfield kept up the pressure. It finally knotted the contest at 8:19 when senior captain Dylan Narodowy lifted a wrister past Lake’s right-side blocker.
Only 1:17 remained on the clock in the middle stanza when senior defenseman Jamie Casilli stole the puck, raced in on a two-on-one break and roped a slapper at Pasquariello, though he produced a superb cradle stop.
Pasquariello – thanks to plenty of help from defensemen Will Degnan, Bissonnette, Conor Dispirito and brother Matt Pasquariello – earned 28 saves. Lake finished with 20.
“I’m happy that we didn’t collapse when we weren’t playing well,” Andreozzi said later. “We started doing the things we were capable of doing better in the third. We started moving our feet and anticipating, but we still need to get more consistent.”
Noted Nadeau: “I was most pleased by the fact that – at the end of the second period – my guys had an ‘Ah-ha’ moment. They started to think there was no reason they couldn’t play with that team, that whoever could win the final 15 minutes could win the game.
“I believe now we’ll be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, and I’m guessing it’s going to be Lincoln, but everything depends on (the Lions-Clippers tilt tonight). If we play the way we did here, I think we can surprise some people.”