The Pilgrim hockey team graduated eight seniors from last year, and another player isn’t returning for his senior season. Couple that with only two incoming freshmen, and the Pats are short on bodies for this season.
But while the quantity of players may be less than ideal, the quality is plenty good enough, and Pilgrim is hoping the talent level is enough to overcome the lack of depth.
The Pats return three all-division skaters from a year ago, as well as a two-time all-division goalie from a team that went 11-6-1 in Division II-Central season. They also bring back seven other skaters with experience and another goalie.
There isn’t much beyond that, but head coach Dave Tober is working with what he has – and what he does have is pretty good.
“Look at it in a positive light,” Tober said. “It means we have better players on the ice more frequently.”
Tober is planning on rotating two lines and four defensemen, while also utilizing two goalies.
The increase in ice time will be an adjustment for just about everybody, and the practices so far have been geared around preparing for the toll that will take.
“Practice time is not only dedicated to implementing systems and going over what we have to do as a team, but it’s also to prepare us for lots of ice time on the weekend,” Tober said. “It’s making sure our conditioning is at the top level. It’s making sure we’re tough to be able to deal with situations to be able to play when we’re tired.”
Luckily, the players have embraced the challenge, and have their sights set on a playoff run.
The offense is led by senior Nick Mcguirl, who has been the team’s top scorer every year of his career. He tallied 38 points last year and was named first-team all-division.
He had originally planned on playing hockey at Worcester Academy this season, but after attending that school for the fall, he elected to transfer back to Pilgrim.
Having him back in the fold is obviously a big-time boost for the Pats.
“It’s huge,” Tober said. “That goes without saying, to get a first-team all-division guy back. It makes that top unit stronger. That’s two-thirds intact from last year.”
Skating with McGuirl on that top line will be senior Cody Weaver and sophomore Ryan Oatley.
Oatley saw significant time as a freshman last year, and Weaver was an all-division player who was second on the team in points with 31.
The second line will be centered by senior Susie Cavanagh, and she will be flanked by sophomore Sam Adamo and junior Taylor Stringfellow. That entire line has previous varsity experience.
The Pats also have a third line – with freshman Brett Casale centering sophomore Denver Cherms and freshman Matt Parente – but it will need to progress some before it sees the ice very often.
“Right now it’s more playing two lines and then trying to get (the third line) prepared to help out at the varsity level,” Tober said.
Defensively, Pilgrim brings back all-division player Dylan LeGarie to lead the unit. Three-year returner Cory Casale will play alongside him, with sophomores Bryant Palermo and Joe Paliotte also rotating in.
Just like the forwards, all of the defensemen have played heavy minutes at the varsity level.
“We really don’t have any new players stepping in to any key roles,” Tober said.
In goal, two-time all-division selection Ian Giuttari is back and has looked strong early on, but he has been pushed by junior Devon Gamba, who served as the back-up last year.
“Devon Gamba was the back-up last year, and he’s back fighting for the spot right along with Ian,” Tober said. “Playing really well.”
The Pats played in an Injury Fund game last Saturday and looked strong, defeating North Smithfield 3-1.
This weekend, they’ll open the actual regular season with a game on Friday against Coventry at 8 p.m. at the West Warwick Civic Center and a game on Saturday against rival Toll Gate at Thayer Arena at 6:30 p.m.
That will mark the beginning of Pilgrim’s quest to return to the playoffs and improve on last year’s quarterfinal appearance, where it lost to Cumberland two games to one.
It will be a challenge, but the skill level is there to give the Pats a shot.
“I don’t think we’re limited because of our numbers,” Tober said. “I just think we have to modify what we do to prepare. And in terms of inhibiting what exactly our goals are, no, they’re all exactly the same. It’s get a good playoff seed and advance as far into March as we can.”