The Pilgrim hockey team felt like it underachieved last year by not living up to the talent it was putting on the ice every weekend.
The Pats didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, finishing at 8-10. It was disappointing.
Nobody wants to be disappointed again.
Pilgrim suffered three significant losses in graduation but has just about everybody else back in the fold. While the goaltending situation is a slight question mark, everything else is there for the Pats to get back to their winning ways. If the goaltending works out too, then Pilgrim should be in the mix for a return trip to the postseason.
“I was disappointed last year,” second-year head coach Chad Tvenstrup said. “We had a team that should have made the playoffs and we didn’t. There’s no way around it. We didn’t meet our goal and we didn’t reach our potential. I’m telling the guys this year to reach our potential and see where that gets us.”
The Pats will be trying to hit that mark without goaltender Devon Gamba, a two-year starter in net who was named second-team all-Division II-South last season. Gamba played 800 minutes in the cage a season ago, and had a 4.21 goals against average.
That, at least initially, will be the toughest thing to replace. Pilgrim has sophomore Kam Murphy back, and he’ll take over the starting duties after serving as a back-up last year. He played only 18 minutes last season, making eight saves and allowing one goal.
The back-up this year is sophomore Cameron Gagnon, who has never before played hockey.
“Our huge loss was in net, obviously with Devon,” Tvenstrup said. “We have two sophomore goalies with the program and a combined experience of four or five years of hockey. Our back-up goalie is brand new to the ice.”
The other two losses were also significant. Pilgrim graduated Dylan Legarie, who switched to forward last season and tied for the D-II lead in goals. Defenseman Corey Casale is also gone after earning 11 assists last year from the blue line.
Both players were first-team all-division.
But Tvenstrup is confident in his skaters this season. There are quite a few back in the fold.
Up front, scoring could be a strength for the Pats, who boast a talented top six forwards.
Senior Sam Adamo, an assistant captain, leads the way after registering 26 points last season. Senior Ryan Oatley will likely lead a separate line, and he had 17 points last season.
“I expect a lot out of those two guys on offense,” Tvenstrup said.
Also returning is sophomore Liam Strain, who had a dynamic freshman campaign with eight goals and 14 assists, putting him third on the team in points with 22.
Likely playing on the first line will be talented freshman Patrick Reilly. Assistant captain Matt Parente, a junior, played some last year and he’ll be seeing significant time up front, along with sophomore Dean Russo, who played on the second line last year.
Senior Denver Cherms is also in the mix. Those seven will spend the majority of the time on the ice, as Tvenstrup doesn’t anticipate playing a third line most of the time.
“I like the chemistry of what I’m seeing so far,” Tvenstrup said. “We’re going to need to put goals in the net.”
Defensively, the team is led by senior captain Joe Paliotte. He had 10 assists last year and will be the anchor in the back along with senior assistant captain Bryant Palermo. Palermo had 11 points last year and was named second-team all-division.
Joining them is sophomore Nolan McCusker, who had a solid freshman season. The fourth player in the group is junior Brett Casale, who is transitioning from forward to defense. He was hurt much of last year but can be a factor when healthy. Freshman Steven Pezzullo might get into the action as well.
“It’s a good group of guys,” Tvenstrup said. “We’re excited. The coaching staff is excited to work with them. It’s a young team. We’re heavy in the freshman and sophomore classes.”
Three other freshmen are currently dressing for the varsity team – Ty Morgan, Ronald Minear and Morgan Almon, who elected to play for the boys’ team rather then the Warwick co-op girls’ team. She’s already helped out, scoring a goal in Pilgrim’s 6-5 Injury Fund loss to PCD/Wheeler/St. Ray’s this past weekend.
“I’m sure she’s going to figure into the mix,” Tvenstrup said. “She’s got good character, hard worker. First one on the ice, ready to go.”
Sophomore Nick Yehle is also dressing. Others on the team are freshman Joseph Roberti, sophomores Nicholas Demoranville and Elias Pariseau – who played some last season – and senior Lukas Bauer.
Overall, Pilgrim has 22 players on the roster.
Tvenstrup wants all of them to reach their potential. If they do that, the Pats should end up as a solid group, and they’ll find themselves right back in the playoff hunt.
“Our goal is to reach our potential,” Tvenstrup said. “The guys I have on my roster, I don’t think there’s any reason why we couldn’t fight for a playoff spot.”
Pilgrim opens its season on Saturday at home against Middletown at 6:30 p.m.