Sports editor emeritus
PROVIDENCE – Cumberland put its sterling credentials on the Meehan Auditorium ice for all to see on Thursday night in the Division II championship opener against the co-op team from Providence Country Day, St. Raphael Academy and Wheeler.
The Clippers, who went 18-0 during the regular season, simply wore down a PSW team that skated hard in a scoreless first period before falling victim to Cumberland’s relentless offensive skills over the final two stanzas. The final score read 7-1 in favor of the Clippers, who can wrap up their division championship with a victory in tonight’s 8 p.m. finale at the same location.
Sophomore Jake Salisbury scored the first two goals for Cumberland, which then got goals from five different players over the final 22 minutes of action.
“(PSW) came out hard in the first period,” Cumberland coach Mark Andreozzi admitted afterwards. “We knew they would. They’re a good team. In the second period, we started to move our feet better. We put more pucks on the net. We scored a couple of rebound goals. Our depth began to show.”
PSW goaltender Brandon Gribbin, who made 43 saves during Monday night’s 4-3 victory over North Kingstown in Game 3 of the semifinals, stopped all 11 Cumberland shots in the first period. The co-op kids needed another big game from their goalie, who is one of the best in the state, but Cumberland’s constant pressure began to pay off in the second period.
Just 85 seconds into the middle period, Cumberland defenseman James Casilli launched a hard shot on goal from the blue line. Gribbin made the stop but the puck fell at his feet and Salisbury slapped it across the goal line for a 1-0 lead. Forward John Wainwright and Casilli were awarded assists on the play.
Cumberland kept the pressure on. Defenseman Thomas Malloy put a strong shot on Gribbin. Sophomore Trevor Whalen skated around a defenseman, controlling the puck and looking for a shot opportunity that never came. Casilli got the puck back at the blue line and blasted another boomer that went over the top of the net.
Casilli and fellow defenseman Josh Santoro controlled the puck as PSW’s strategy of clogging the middle of the ice started to collapse under the strain of this constant pressure. Midway through the period, freshman defender Andrew Rxemien, who set up two goals, put a shot on Gribbin. Salisbury, who led the team in scoring this year, converted the rebound in a scramble in front of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Just over a minute later, Cumberland’s James Cabral got loose on a breakaway but was denied by the now desperate PSW defense. A slashing penalty sent PSW’s Thomas Dudzik to the box and Cumberland made it 3-0 with a power-play goal from freshman forward Bryan Colburn with 4:07 left in the period.
PSW finally broke through when captain Mark Carrara got free down the middle of the ice and beat goalie Leo Lake on a breakaway. Now it was 3-1 and the co-op team had some momentum. For 17 seconds. That’s how long it took for Casilli to score following a face-off.
“A coach’s nightmare,” PSW coach Gary Leonard said. “The kids are feeling good about scoring. We don’t lock down on the face-off, someone gets free and they score on a good shot (by Casilli).”
The 4-1 score held through the rest of the second period. After a 15-minute break between periods, PSW came out hard to open the final stanza and went on its first power play at the 4:18 mark. Nathan Duffy put a hard shot on Lake that was easily turned away. Justin Katz tried to jam in a rebound seconds later but was denied. And that was all PSW could muster with the man advantage.
Cumberland allowed only one shot on goal for the rest of the game. Its offense dominated action. Salisbury broke free with 9:30 left in the game and streaked down the ice, looking for a hat trick, but Duffy, a good two-way player, disrupted the play after hustling down the ice in pursuit.
The persistent Salisbury put another strong scoring bid on goal soon after. And then Cumberland sophomore Andrew Plata broke open the game with a high shot that went past Gribbin for a 5-1 lead at the 8:24 mark.
Junior Greg Wellington and freshman James Cabral would add goals in the closing minutes for Cumberland, which is now 25-1 overall this season.
“We expect another tough game (on Friday night),” Andreozzi said. “We have to be ready for them. I was pleased tonight with the contributions we got up and down the roster. We had a couple of freshmen and sophomores make big plays. We skated three lines and maybe that had an effect on the game. I just know we are going to have our hands full with them in the next game.”
PSW coach Gary Leonard still believes in his players.
“We lost our first game of the North Kingstown series by a big score (8-3) and came back to win the next two,” the coach said outside his team’s locker room. “I think we can do this but we have to stick with our system. We did a nice job in the first period. We want to clog up certain parts of the ice of them. I don’t want to use tired legs as an excuse. Maybe in November but not now. We’re in the state finals and we have to keep skating hard and playing our game.”