CRANSTON — The reigning champion East Providence High School hockey club begins defense of its Division III title this weekend in the semifinal round opposite third-seeded Tolman, winners over Cranston East, 2-0, in its best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series last week.
The Townies host the Tigers (13-3-1-1) in Game 1 of the semis Friday night, March 8, at the Cranston Ice Rink at 8:10 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for Pawtucket's Lynch Arena Saturday evening, March 9, at 6:30. A third game, if necessary, would likely take place back in Cranston Monday night, March 11. E.P. has not played a competitive game since beating Scituate, 9-2, in their regular season finale on Feb. 22.
"We've had a good season of practice, but we've had a good last couple of weeks of practice, especially. We've picked it up a notch," said EPHS head coach Kevin Croke, who led the locals to their championship last winter.
The Townies posted a 13-2-1 record in their follow-up campaign after defeating Mt. Hope for the D-III championship a year ago and earned the second seed in the playoffs behind only the unbeaten Exeter-West Greenwich/West Warwick Co-op (16-0-0).
"I guess eyes were on us because of the work we did last year, but we only have two seniors with Kevin (Hall) and myself. All the other teams like West Warwick and Tolman have mostly seniors. There was some extra pressure on Kevin and myself, but the whole team has played well," said EPHS senior co-captain Tory Derrick of the season to date. Derrick led the locals with 33 points off 19 goals and 14 assists. Fellow co-captain Hall added 28 points on 14 goals and an equal number of assists.
Both E.P. and the Wizards received first round byes. EWG/WW plays fourth-seeded Narragansett in its best-of-three semi series also this weekend. The winners of each semifinal advance to the championship round next week at Brown University.
The Townies and Tigers played two tight contests during the regular season, a 3-2 East Providence win and a 3-all tie. Tolman, like the locals, had a number of players finish with double-digit scoring totals led by Jared Pedro (23 goals, 23 assists, 46 points) and Brandon Speight (16-17-33). Tolman is backstopped by senior goalie Jared DaSilva (2.08 goals-against average)
Besides Derrick and Hall, the Townies had five other double-figure scorers. Ryan Costa matched the totals of linemate Hall exactly. The third member of the line, Brynne Costa, had 26 points (7-19). Sophomore defenseman Kyle Marquis notched an impressive 23 points (8-15). Josh Letendre (8-7-15) and Jared Estrella (6-8-14) also reached double digits despite missing time late in the regular season due to injury. Sophomore Marc LaValley, in net for the Townies during their championship run last winter, posted a 2.07 GAA this season.
"I think it's because we have two strong lines. Most of the teams only have one powerful line, but we have two," Derrick said of the Townies' regular season success.
East Providence faces a Tolman side in an awkward situation. It was announced several months ago hockey would be eliminated, at least temporarily, as a varsity sport at the Pawtucket school because of lack of players. No current freshmen signed up for the sport this year and none incoming next year are expected to play. Of the 13 players on the Tigers' roster this winter, nine are seniors and the other four are juniors.
"Tolman is a big strong team. They're a veteran team. I don't know how much of a role, if any, their situation is going to affect the way they play," said Coach Kevin Croke.
He continued, "If you take the top three teams, which would be us, Exeter and Tolman, the other two are mostly senior teams. We have only two seniors, a junior and seven sophomores and freshmen who make up the top of our lineup. We're young, but we're hungry."
The Townies' quest to repeat as D-III champs starts this weekend, but it's something they've focused upon since first putting on their skates back in late November.
"That's what we've been working for all season," Derrick added. "We've been working towards a championship, but we'll see how it goes."
Added Coach Croke, "Our goal going into the season was to do better than last year and we've gotten to one of those points now. We finished (the regular season) last year with a 13-3-0 record and this year we were 13-2-1. So by the slightest margin we've improved. But obviously our goal is to repeat, but Exeter-West Greenwich/West Warwick and Tolman are good teams. And Narragansett is a good team, too."
Hobey Baker note
Derrick has been named the 2013 Hobey Baker High School Character Award recipient for East Providence. Derrick was honored by the Providence Bruins Sunday, March 3. Derrick and the rest of the state Baker Award honorees will also be recognized On March 20 at the State House by the Governor and both chambers of the state legislature.
According to the presenting organization, the Hobey Baker High School Award is given annually to players who show "Character, Commitment, Teamwork, Persistence, Selflessness, Academic Excellence and Sportsmanship. 'The Team before me.' These are the values that the Hobey Baker Foundation promotes and recognizes with the Hobey Baker High School Character Award. Started in 2003 and supported by high school coaches, this award is presented to the player on each high school team that most exemplifies the values and traits of Hobey Baker himself."