My Pitch

Clutch play led Hawks to crown

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It’s very rare that a team finishes first in the regular season, then goes undefeated in the postseason to win the state championship, all while flying under the radar.

I wouldn’t say that the Bishop Hendricken hockey team was totally flying under the radar because the Hawks were clearly a contender, but I don’t think that anyone realized just how good this team actually was until it wrapped up its third title in four years at Brown over the weekend.

The Hawks clearly had the talent as well as the experience. Between guys like Jack Dean, Brady Berard, Matt Dumond, Jax Zaroojian, Harry Guilliano, Eric Baxter, Cam Toussaint, Patrick Gribbin, Jon Barker, Nate Palumbo, Drew Haxton and many others, Hendricken was clearly among the most talented groups in the state. The Hawks had also been to the past five finals, so they also had big game experience.

When looking at this season as a whole, the Hawks really cruised through much of the competition with ease. The only league loss of the year came against the Burrillville Broncos midway through the season. I was at that game in Burrillville, and although the Broncos took the overtime decision, the Hawks were right in it the entire way and tied it up in the final minutes to force overtime. They also had what would have been the game-winning goal called back after a referee meeting deemed that the puck “never crossed the line.”

Beyond that loss, there were only two teams that pushed the Hawks. Perennial powerhouse Mount Saint Charles gave the Hawks a tough go despite losing 4-3, and La Salle battled them tough in their three meetings prior to the playoffs. The last regular season matchup between the two clubs resulted in a 4-4 tie, with the Rams jumping out ahead and forcing the Hawks to play catchup the rest of the way. However, it was clear that had the clubs played long enough, the Hawks had the momentum and probably would have wrapped up the win as well.

I’m sure you’re thinking by now, “How is he saying all of this while still thinking that they flew under the radar?” It’s a fair question, but the reason why I’m saying it is because heading into the playoffs, everyone that I talked to said that the title was up for grabs.

Hell, even I agreed. Although Hendricken had La Salle’s number all throughout the regular season, the Rams still made every game a dog fight, not to mention they were the defending champs. You can never count out the Mounties based on their illustrious history either … it truly felt like any of those three teams could walk away hoisting the plaque.

By game’s end in Game 2 of the state championship though, it was quite obvious that it was simply Hendricken’s year, and no team would have a realistic chance at beating the Hawks two of three times. Hindsight is obviously 20-20, but it explains why, in my opinion, the Hawks were flying under the radar. They were clearly the best team of the three powerhouses mentioned, but we just did not want to admit it going into the postseason.

What separated this team in my opinion was the clutch factor. In every sport, there are always plenty of teams with enough talent, enough experience, enough coaching to get it done, but the best teams are the ones that have some sort of x-factor. Sometimes its heart, sometimes its toughness … with this Hendricken team this season, it was the clutch factor that separated them.

It just seemed like the Hawks always had an answer for whoever they were facing, and would always get the goal, or the defensive stop, or the save to get the job done. Even in the loss to Burrillville, they walked away with a point by getting clutch scores down the stretch. In the tie against the Rams, they could have easily packed it in once they fell behind, but they had timely plays across the board to force the overtime and still walk away with points.

The same thing happened in Game 2 on Saturday. The two teams went back and forth throughout the first two periods, and the Hawks had their backs against the ropes when La Salle put away the go-ahead goal with 6:06 remaining in regulation. However, like it had all season, the Hawks’ clutch factor came into play when Berard put away the game tying score with 1:30 left and later the game-winner in overtime.

Although the Hawks won the game, I have to admit, I think the Rams played better overall. They were the ones that pushed the pace, they were the ones that were in control deep into the third period and at times in overtime, but they just could not solve the Hawks’ innate ability to come through when they were in trouble … no team was ultimately able to do it when it mattered.

Like I said, Hendricken had everything it needed this season to be successful. The Hawks had talent, experience, coaching, and most of all, an identifiable x-factor to put them over the top.

So sure, to say the Hawks flew under the radar would be a little strong … but I’m not sure if anyone outside of their own locker room would have confidently picked them to go 4-0 in the playoffs and win the title. It was just their year, and they should open 2019-20 as the early favorite to do it again.

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