The Bishop Hendricken hockey team will have only one goal when it steps on the ice for this weekend’s state semifinal series against La Salle.
Get to Brown.
That’s really all the Hawks can be thinking about at this point, with the Rams standing between themselves and another berth in the state championship series.
While it might be tempting to look ahead toward a potential rematch of last year’s championship series with Mount St. Charles, Hendricken knows that won’t be a possibility unless it takes of its business in the semis first. If it wants to play at Brown’s Meehan Auditorium and win a second consecutive title, the focus needs to be on the first step.
“The only benefit we have is that we can’t look ahead,” Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer said. “From how competitive those games have been all year with La Salle, we’re forced to focus on what’s in front of us.”
Hendricken is riding high entering the playoffs, as it earned the No. 1 seed thanks to a 15-2-1 league record. La Salle is the No. 4 seed after a 9-8-1 regular season, but the gap between the two teams isn’t necessarily as pronounced as the records would indicate.
The Hawks and Rams have faced off three times this season, with Hendricken winning all three games by a single goal. The first time they met, on Dec. 14, the Hawks won 3-2. Then, on Jan. 25, Hendricken held off a two-goal third-period rally by La Salle to win 3-2 again. Recently, on March 2, the Hawks overcame a 1-0 deficit in the third period to win 2-1 in overtime.
They also met in a preseason Injury Fund game and came away tied.
“I think the two teams match-up really well against each other,” Creamer said. “I think the school rivalry plays a part in it. I think it all factors into the whole process. We need to be ready to play or they’re going to take it to us.”
La Salle will be in search of its first finals berth since the 2009-10 season, when it upset second-seeded Hendricken in the semifinals as the No. 6 seed before falling to Mount.
The Hawks, on the other hand, are trying to keep up the most successful run in the history of their program. They’ll be looking for a third consecutive finals appearance and their eighth in nine years.
“We like how we’re playing, but we recognize it’s going to be a big challenge,” Creamer said. “They’re a very good team.”
Leading the charge for Hendricken will be its much-heralded first line, which has been as dynamic as any in the state. Senior Ed Markowski, junior Andrew Fera and sophomore Matt Creamer have combined for 97 points. Creamer is tied with Mount’s Tyler Scroggins as the leading point-getter in the division with 38. Markowski is third in the division with 31 points, and Fera is fourth with 28.
Those three will have to do the heavy lifting offensively.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that those three guys have to score for us,” Jim Creamer said. “When they’re successful, we’re successful. We ask quite a bit out of them, and I think they’re more than capable of handling it.”
Others, like Jamie Armstrong, Dakota Hersey, Tucker Alberigo and Reilly Miller could also help out with the scoring load, but it won’t be an easy task for anyone, as they’ll be trying to score on sophomore goaltender Tyler Walsh.
Walsh is 6-foot-3, making him one of the tougher players in the state to put the puck past. This season, he played almost 740 minutes between the pipes, which was the third most in D-I. His goals against was 2.25, and he boasted a .909 save percentage.
“He’s a big kid,” Creamer said. “I think we need to get a lot of shots on him and get some rebounds. We’ve got to work to score goals.”
Of course, the Hawks wouldn’t be where they are without standout goaltending of their own. Senior Mitch Proulx has been the go-to guy for most of the year, as he’s allowed just 18 goals all year and leads D-I with a 1.41 GAA and a .939 save percentage. Hendricken also has senior Craig Colson, who has an exceptional 1.82 GAA in limited time in net, although he played in three of the final six games for the Hawks.
As good as Walsh is, Hendricken’s goaltending has been second-to-none.
“We feel great with either one,” Creamer said. “I’m still undecided how we’re going to play them. I think we’ll start with Mitch on Friday night and we’ll go from there. It’s a nice problem to have.”
Unlike Hendricken, the Rams don’t have a dominant top line of goal-scorers, as their leading scorer – sophomore Joe Manown – has 17 points, which is 13th in the division. Their next two leading scorers are Jason Delisle and Brendon Cordeiro with 13 goals apiece.
La Salle scored 47 goals in league play, compared to 70 for the Hawks. Yet, in the three meetings between the teams this year, Hendricken only out-shot the Rams 91-78.
“They’ve got some talented forwards that can score,” Creamer said. “They’re gritty, they work really hard. They’re just going to be tough to play against.”
Despite being rivals and playing in the same division, the playoff showdown between Hendricken and La Salle is rare. They’ve only met five times since 1993-94 and only once since 1999-2000.
That said, they’re still plenty familiar with each other, and they’re both simply trying to give themselves a shot at being the state’s best.
“I think the rivalry thing really sticks out,” Creamer said. “Between the football, and basketball and everything else. I think both school’s communities are geared up for it. When you’re a 16, 17-year-old kid, they get geared up for it as well. I think it’s a healthy rivalry, and I think both teams will play their best because of it.”
Game one of the best-of-three series is Friday night at 7 p.m. at Thayer Arena. The second game will be held on Saturday at 8 p.m. at West Warwick’s Benny Magiera Rink. A third game – if necessary – would be held on Monday, with the rink and game time still to be determined.
In the other semifinal, No. 2 Mount is taking on No. 3 Coventry.