As expected, it’s been a tough season for the Warwick Vets hockey team so far, and the ’Canes knew it wasn’t likely to get better on Friday when undefeated defending Division III champion Johnston/North Providence came to town.
But that didn’t stop the ’Canes from doing what they’ve done all year – competing.
Winless Vets battled through the first period, buckling down on defense enough to limit the high-scoring Cougars to just a goal. JNP eventually broke out late in the second period and went on to a 7-0 victory, but for Vets head coach Howie Rosenblatt, the game was just another example of his team’s toughness.
“I’m more proud of the kids coming together as a team,” Rosenblatt said. “They all show up at practice, they have fun and their attitudes are great. We’re a very inexperienced team. Right now, we’ve got two players who have more than a year or two of hockey experience. Out of the 12 kids that we have, nine of them never played hockey before a month ago. They’re having fun, they’re playing hard and they’re doing the best they can. That’s all we can really ask for.”
The ’Canes were prepared for some struggles this year. With low numbers, they had to come up with a big in-school recruiting effort to keep the program viable. That hurdle was cleared, but the hurdles on the ice have been difficult to get over as well. Senior Dan Pickering and junior Dakota Hersey are the only players with significant hockey experience. Even with those two playing virtually every minute, the ’Canes face an uphill battle every time out. They’ve scored one goal this season and have allowed 34.
“The outcomes aren’t going to be any different at this point, unfortunately,” Rosenblatt said. “We still want to compete. We still start the game 0-0. We go into every game thinking we have a chance to win.”
Friday’s match-up with JNP was Vets’ first game in almost three weeks, but the outcome was similar to the team’s last outing, an 8-0 loss to Tolman on Dec. 10.
JNP scored its first goal with 7:56 left in the first period, as John Rappa punched a loose puck past Vets goalie John McNally.
Vets continued to hold its own for much of the second period. JNP went up 2-0 with 7:39 left, but was stonewalled by McNally and the Vets defense on several other occasions.
Late in the second period, though, the floodgates opened. Stephen Morrison scored with 3:21 left in the period and JNP added two more goals in the final two minutes to carry a 5-0 lead into intermission.
From that point on, Vets gave its top skaters a break and got some valuable ice time for its inexperienced players.
“I know if we get down three or four goals, we just don’t have the firepower to score five or six goals,” Rosenblatt said. “When it’s 1-0, 2-0, we can still be in the game. It’s just one of those things. As a public school, you’re handed what you’re handed.”
McNally, a junior, made some good saves in net for the ’Canes, finishing with 43 on 50 shots.
“He’s out there doing the best he can,” Rosenblatt said. “It’s not an easy situation as a goaltender. If he’s asked to make 20 saves, he might be able to do that. When you’re seeing 50 shots, seven goals really isn’t that bad.”
Rosenblatt expects the ’Canes to continue working hard as they get into the meat of their Division III schedule. Vets will play Woonsocket, who’s also winless, on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Thayer Arena.
“I think there are some teams we can play with,” Rosenblatt said. “We’ll keep working, It would be a lot worse if we had kids on the team who didn’t have good attitudes. But all these kids have great attitudes. They look out for each other. We’re in it together.”