The Bishop Hendricken hockey team hasn’t lost very often this season, but one of those rare defeats came at the hands of Smithfield on Jan. 24.
With much more on the line this past weekend, the Hawks made sure that didn’t happen again.
Using a dynamic power play and solid work on the back end from the goaltender out, Hendricken more than avenged its regular season loss to Smithfield with a sweep of the best-of-three state semifinal series between the two teams. It grabbed a 5-3 win on Friday and a 2-1 win on Saturday, sending the Hawks to the state championship series for the seventh time in nine years.
And its opponent will be a familiar one, as Hendricken will take on defending state champion Mount St. Charles for the title, the only team it has faced in the state championship over that nine-year span. Mount, the No. 2 seed, swept No. 3 La Salle in the other semifinal series.
“It feels good, it really does,” said sophomore forward Jamie Armstrong, who scored two goals and added two assists in the series. “As a team we earned it this year. We work hard every day in practice. I think tonight was a good example of it. We stuck with it. Our mental toughness was good and we got the win.”
The top-seeded Hawks entered the postseason on a roll, included in which was a late-season 4-3 win over Smithfield. In that game, the Sentinels made a charge in the third period to make a would-be blowout into a tightly-contested game.
On Friday, Hendricken took the same sort of lead and didn’t let Smithfield chip too much of it away. Patrick Creamer scored halfway through the first period, with Andrew Fera and Armstrong assisting, and Armstrong blew the game open in the second period with two power play goals in the period’s first five minutes to make it 3-0. Creamer picked up two assists and Tucker Alberigo had one as well.
“We’ve got to do that,” said Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer. “We’ve got to come out at the end of the night in the plus on the special teams. We talked about that as well. The kids just did a good job from top to bottom.”
Fera added an unassisted goal to make it 4-0 before Smithfield got on the board with a Nick Gerlach goal late in the period. Michael Gualin added a second goal for Smithfield early in the third period to make it 4-2, but Reilly Miller scored Hendricken’s fifth goal early in the third period to put the game out of reach. Kiel Fuller and Eric Edwards assisted. Smithfield got a late goal from Jim Varin to round out the scoring.
Matt Kenneally made 14 saves in net, while Smithfield’s Evan Carlton turned aside 16 shots.
“It was good because we had a lead and we were able to run four lines and six D,” Creamer said. “We had a lot of guys going and I think it gave some guys a little bit of rest (for game two).”
The rest showed on Saturday. Though Hendricken won only 2-1, it out-shot the Sentinels 43-15, dominating puck possession and keeping Smithfield from many legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.
“It’s great, a great feeling,” Kenneally said. “It’s great to get back at them after beating us in the regular season.”
Hendricken also benefited from a terrific first period. It out-shot Smithfield 16-4 over the first 15 minutes, and took an early lead on its first power play of the game.
With 6:33 to go, Steven Dumond threw the puck on net from the left point with traffic in front. The puck was re-directed by Brandon Mitchell and it flew past Carlton for a 1-0 lead. Miller also received an assist.
“Our special teams unit came in to play,” Armstrong said. “That was a big part of the series. They took penalties and we just capitalized on our opportunities.”
The Hawks had another good opportunity on the power play less than a minute later, but came up empty. Five minutes after that, though, they found the back of the net again.
Chris Shalvey sent a pass to Armstrong just inside the blue line on the left, and he skated the puck hard to the net. At the last second, Armstrong slipped a pass to Pat Creamer on the right side, and the freshman one-timed it past Carlton for the eventual game-winner, making it 2-0.
“We had to jump on them early or they would come right back at us,” Kenneally said.
The second period was chippy, with the teams being called for a combined 13 penalties. With power plays abounding for both sides, neither was able to find the back of the net, although Hendricken again dominated possession and out-shot Smithfield 11-6.
“They’re not an easy team to play,” Jim Creamer said. “This had a recipe for disaster in a lot of respects. Smithfield is tough, and I thought we were tough as well.”
Early in the third, Smithfield narrowed the gap. Kyle Cook put a puck on net and Kenneally made the initial save, but it bounced around near the crease. Andrew Souza got his stick on it and sent it from the right post to the left post, where Nick Paiva forced it into the goal.
Even after being a step faster all game, Hendricken only led by a goal.
But the Hawks didn’t lose their cool. They nearly re-upped the lead to two goals with eight minutes remaining when Carlton made a kick save on a Fera wrist shot, and Hendricken kept the pressure on from there.
Smithfield took a timeout with 2:31 to play and pulled Carlton shortly after, but never mounted another serious opportunity. Hendricken out-shot the Sentinels 16-5 in the period.
“We talked about it during the second and third – if they got one, not to panic,” Creamer said. “I thought if we just played we’d be fine, and the kids did a good job.”
The final buzzer eventually sounded and Hendricken was free to celebrate another trip to the finals, something it missed out on last season.
It will be searching for its second state championship in three years and its fourth in seven years. The Mounties and Hawks have split the last six titles, three apiece.
The best-of-three finals will begin on Friday, with game two on Saturday. A third game, if necessary, will be held on Monday. All the games will be at 7 p.m. at Brown’s Meehan Auditorium.
Hendricken won all three regular season meetings against Mount this year. With two more, the Hawks will be state champions.
“Us and Mount again,” Creamer said. “Back at it. We’re excited.”