For the second year in a row, the Pilgrim hockey team isn’t exactly hitting the playoffs on a high note. Last year, the Pats had lost five of six heading into the postseason. This year, they’ve dropped four in a row in league play.
But as they head into this weekend’s Division II quarterfinal series against Middletown, the Pats aren’t too worried. For one thing, only one of those losses was a glaring one; the other three were to the first and second-place teams.
On top of that, the Pats know how to approach playoff hockey.
“You can’t just turn it on, but at the same time, the playoffs are different,” said head coach Dave Tober. “We stepped on the ice this week and it was a different level of focus. I don’t question how hard we’re going to play or how prepared we’re going to be. It’s just a matter of utilizing what we have.”
The Pats will be making their fourth consecutive playoff appearance, and several of their current stars have been around for all of those, including a run to the Division I-A semifinals in 2010. Last year, Pilgrim pushed Cumberland to three games in the quarterfinals before dropping the deciding game 4-2.
The Pats finished this season with the same 11-6-1 record they had last year, but from this point on, they hope that’s the only similarity.
“This is our fourth straight year in the playoffs,” Tober said. “Last year was disappointing, but I think that probably helps us. We know what we didn’t get done last year and what needs to change for us.”
Pilgrim will be facing an unfamiliar foe this year. Middletown plays in Division II-South, and this season, teams from the North and South sub-divisions didn’t play each other in league action.
“I think it’s kind of cool that you play someone you haven’t seen,” Tober said. “It adds a little something. You’re not going out there and lining up against someone for the fourth time.”
The Islanders went 11-4-3 in D-II-South and earned the No. 2 seed, finishing the campaign with 70 goals scored and 53 allowed. They also beat and tied South leader Prout.
They were led in scoring by sophomore Michael Curtis, who tallied 19 goals and nine assists. Senior goaltender William Coogan saw the bulk of time in net and finished the regular season with a .913 goals against average.
“Just from talking to some coaches on the other side, I’ve heard they’re physical and they’re got some offensive weapons,” Tober said. “They’re sound in terms of their systems, and they like to play the body, which is fine with us.”
The teams will get acquainted pretty quickly this weekend, but the Pats are more focused on themselves anyway. A 6-5 loss to PCD/Wheeler/St. Ray’s last Friday was a disappointing one – and it cost Pilgrim the No. 2 seed – but the team bounced back strong in its finale against Coventry, playing well and losing by just a 2-0 score.
At this point, the Pats know what they’re capable of – now they’ll try to deliver.
“To be honest, I feel confident going up against anybody,” Tober said. “Our potential is our potential. If we’re at our best and our fastest, I feel we could take this league.”
The Pats, who scored 70 goals and allowed 40 this year, are led offensively by seniors Nick McGuirl and Cody Weaver. McGuirl finished the season with 25 goals and 26 assists, which tied him with Coventry’s Connor DiPietro for the D-II points lead. Weaver ranked seventh in the division with 22 goals and 18 assists.
The Pats also have a veteran in net. Senior Ian Giuttari is a four-year starter with a wealth of playoff experience.
“I like the pieces we have in place,” Tober said. “We have the perfect goalie for the playoffs, we have some top-tier scorers and our defense has really come a long way.”
And the Pats are hungry.
“Our seniors, this is their last go-round,” Tober said. “It’s been a different tone in practice this week. They’re amped and they’re excited. We understand that not every team gets this chance, and we want to come out and really take advantage of it.”
The Pats will take a long road trip for game one, which is scheduled for Friday at 8:30 p.m. at St. George’s School in Middletown. Game two will be Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Thayer Arena.
If necessary, game three would be Monday.