The Bishop Hendricken hockey team may not be unbeaten anymore, but the Hawks are still playing like the top team in the state.
A week after suffering its first loss of the season on Jan. 27 to Mount St. Charles, Hendricken responded in its next big test with a 5-2 victory over La Salle on Saturday night at Thayer Arena.
The Rams came into the game on a five-game winning streak, which included a 6-1 win over Mount last weekend.
But Hendricken, which also beat Burrillville 4-1 on Friday night, was ready.
“In a lot of respects (losing to Mount) was good for us,” Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer said. “I think some things were coming a little too easy and we were getting a lot of breaks along the way. We could easily have had a few other losses. We had a really hard week of practice and sort of re-focused a little bit. I like how we played last night against Burrillville, and I was really proud of them tonight.”
Paul Filippone scored twice for Hendricken, including an empty-netter with just over a minute to play, and Billy Palmer turned away 17 shots in goal.
As a team, the Hawks took 27 shots – compared to just 19 for La Salle – and they came back from an early 1-0 deficit to thoroughly control the game. They played without senior forward Justin Finan, but didn’t show any ill effects.
“We went down 1-0, and I thought we did a really nice job the rest of the time,” Creamer said. “We were on loose pucks, we won a lot of individual battles. We had a lot of enthusiasm today.”
Hendricken improved to 12-1-1, and it now holds a significant lead in power points over second-place La Salle, which fell to 8-4-1.
In four games against the Rams this year, including an exhibition game before the season opened, Hendricken is 3-0-1.
“Last week against Mount was a tough one,” Palmer said. “But we really came back and practiced hard.”
Palmer was lights-out in goal, as he turned away numerous breakaway opportunities while improving his save percentage to .932, which is second in Division I.
He did get beat for the game’s first goal on a tip from Bryan Lemos off a slap shot toward the goal from Jason Delisle, but he essentially stifled La Salle’s attack from there on out.
“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Creamer said of Palmer. “He’s playing great. He’s seeing the puck really well. His rebound control is excellent. It’s nice to have him back there.”
Meanwhile, the Hawks’ skaters quickly began to hold up their end of the bargain, as well.
Three minutes after La Salle scored, Hendricken’s Austin Navarro took a slap shot from the left point. The puck bounced off goalie Tyler Walsh and ended up on the stick of Filippone, who wristed it home to tie the game.
Just over a minute later, Hendricken went on the power play and quickly took advantage.
Sixteen seconds in, Ed Markowski centered the puck from the right circle and David Mitchell cleanly one-timed it into the left side of the goal. That gave Hendricken a 2-1 lead.
“That line – Markowski, Mitchell and (Robbie) Buehrer – they haven’t been playing great, and I’m sure they would say it,” Creamer said. “Tonight they really got on a roll.”
Early on in the second period, the Hawks struck again.
Armed with their second power play of the night, after a La Salle interference penalty, Buehrer crossed the puck from the left side and Markowski was there. He mis-hit his slap shot attempt, but the puck snuck past Walsh anyway and suddenly it was 3-1.
At the 5:24 point in the second, Hendricken took a three-goal lead when Navarro found Creamer in front and Creamer buried the puck.
Then, the defense went to work making the lead hold up.
“I think our defensemen played as well as they have probably all season long,” Creamer said. “ That’s a great sign.”
The Hawks’ defense shut down multiple odd-man rushes, and seemed to win the battle behind the net every time there was a loose puck.
La Salle, however, did get on the board at the tail end of the second period, as Lemos beat Palmer on a breakaway to make it a 4-2 game.
But Hendricken kept the pressure up in the third, and La Salle rarely seriously threatened. The Rams pulled Walsh with 1:25 to play, and with 1:07 left Filippone wristed a shot from just inside the blue line into the open net to finish off the victory.
“We always talk about not getting too high, not getting too low, and I think they did a real nice job maintaining themselves,” Creamer said.
The goal was Filippone’s fourth of the weekend, as he also had two goals in the win over Burrillville the night before.
The Hawks now have four regular-season league games remaining – two with Moses Brown, one with La Salle and one with Mount – before the playoffs begin.
With one more victory, and a La Salle loss, Hendricken can clinch the No. 1 seed in the postseason. It is scheduled to take on Moses Brown this Friday at Thayer Arena at 7:30 p.m.