Just like that, R.I. is level again
On Jan. 5, the Hendricken hockey team beat Mount St. Charles 4-0 at Adelard Arena. It was a strong statement, and it seemed to highlight the difference between the two teams.
Hendricken had gone on the road to the most hostile place in the state, and hit the Mounties where it hurt. The defending state champions firmly established themselves as the team to beat, no matter how early in the season it was.
Three weeks passed, and the Hawks kept winning. They stayed unbeaten, cruising past every team in their path. The Mounties, on the other hand, tripped up again, losing 2-0 to Coventry on Jan. 19.
For the first time in a while, it looked like a sizeable gap was opening between the two programs that have held joint hockey dominion over the rest of the state for the last seven years.
This past weekend, Mount came to Thayer Arena and blitzed the Hawks for a 3-1 win. The Mounties out-shot Hendricken 18-3 in the first period and held on late to hand the Hawks their first loss.
In just one game, things were put back to normal. Order was restored. It’s not just Hendricken sitting at the top – that would have been too easy. Instead, it’s Mount and Hendricken.
Once again, it looks like they’re on a collision course. The past two years and six of the last seven years, it’s been Mounties-Hawks in the finals, and it would be an upset if they didn’t make it three in a row and seven out of eight this season.
The numbers back it up. Hendricken sits in first place in Division I-Cimini with a 9-1 record, while Mount is just behind at 7-2. They’ve each beaten each other on the road.
Mount has out-scored its opponents 39-17, and has a plus-22 goal differential. The Mounties have scored the most goals in D-I, and have allowed the second-fewest.
Hendricken has out-scored its opponents 38-14, and has scored the second-most goals in D-I and allowed the fewest.
They’re two peas in a pod.
The Hawks have the best power play in the division, scoring with the man advantage 24.39 percent of the time.
The Mounties have the best penalty kill in the division, as they’ve killed off 95 percent of the penalties they’ve faced.
It’s just more proof that opposites attract.
The two teams boast the top two point-getters in the division as well. Hendricken’s Matt Creamer leads the way with 17 points, while Mount’s Tyler Scroggins is hot on his tail with 16 points.
How about goaltending? Mitch Proulx is the top goaltender in the division with a 1.25 goals against average and a .950 save percentage. He’s followed by Coventry’s Stephen Schmitt, who sits just percentage points ahead of – you guessed it – Mount’s Brian Larence, who has a .931 save percentage and a 1.45 GAA.
Repeat after me: collision course.
In last year’s state finals, the hockey was terrific and the atmosphere was even better. Hendricken beat Mount 4-3 in overtime in the first game before Mount rebounded with a 3-2 win in game two. In game three, the Hawks put it all together for a 5-2, title-clinching win.
The rivalry should only get juicier this season as we get deeper into the schedule. Mount is expecting its best player, Brian Belisle, to return sometime soon, and that’s going to be an enormous boost to an already dynamic offensive team. Belisle was the leading scorer in all of D-I last season, but has been out since the first game of the year with a concussion.
“It’s like the Patriots playing without [Tom] Brady,” Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer said in early January. “Brian Belisle is, I think, the best player in the state.”
Think that’ll add a new element to the title chase?
The two teams will meet for the third and final time in the regular season this Friday, with first place on the line. Hendricken will head up to Adelard again, trying to repeat its Jan. 5 performance. Mount will be looking to make a statement of its own.
Yet, no matter who wins, it’s going to be a game between the best two teams in the state of Rhode Island.
No disrespect to La Salle – who is a close third-best – or Coventry or any other team with title hopes, because there is still a lot of hockey to be played this season.
But let’s be real about what’s happening in the state – even if the days of a solely Mount-dominated Rhode Island hockey landscape are probably over, we’re still in the midst of dominance.
It just involves two teams now. You can’t have one without the other.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.