The Bishop Hendricken hockey team doesn’t need to look very far for motivation as it gets set to open the state playoffs this weekend.
The Hawks could look to last year, when they blew through the regular season and earned the top seed in the postseason, only to get swept in the semifinals by No. 4 La Salle.
Or, the Hawks could turn their attention to a more recent game – a Jan. 24 loss to Smithfield, 3-2 in overtime.
That one is fresh in their minds.
Hendricken will take to the ice on Friday for the first game of its best-of-three semifinal series with the very Smithfield team that won back in January. The Hawks are the top seed for the third straight year, and the Sentinels are the No. 4 seed after a 10-8 regular season that saw them emerge as the state’s top public school.
The Hawks went 14-1-2-1, and one of those three losses sticks out.
“Oh God, yeah,” said Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer, when asked if he reminds his team about that loss to Smithfield. “It’s tough to ignore. They beat us that night. We didn’t beat ourselves. They beat us. They did a good job. We’re going to have to be very good to beat them.”
Smithfield’s victory over Hendricken was one of just two public school wins over the state’s big three – Hendricken, Mount St. Charles and La Salle – this season. Burrillville beat La Salle for the other one.
But since that point, the Hawks have been on a tear, and they haven’t lost a single game. They finished the regular season with nine wins and a tie in their last 10 games.
Included in that run were two wins over Mount, with last weekend’s victory over the Mounties clinching the regular season division title, and also a revenge win against Smithfield. The Sentinels have gone 5-4 over the same span.
“We had a nice run there over our last six or seven games to beat some good teams,” Creamer said. “We beat Mount twice there towards the end to win the division championship. It all starts anew now.”
In the second match-up with Smithfield this season, on Feb. 22, Hendricken won 4-3. While the score was close once again, Creamer was much more comfortable with his team’s performance in that game.
The Hawks took a 4-0 lead in to the third period before committing a host of penalties, leading to two power play goals and a tense finish. But the first two periods were dominant.
“I think for the first two periods, it was the way we wanted to be,” Creamer said.
Hendricken’s confidence is understandably high, given its position in the standings and the way it finished the year.
It’s also happy to trot out a team with balance, something it couldn’t say a year ago. When the Hawks were bounced by La Salle, the Rams did the job by matching up with Hendricken’s dominant top line of Matt Creamer, Andrew Fera and Ed Markowski, neutralizing almost all of the Hawks’ offensive firepower.
That approach likely won’t work against this team, as Hendricken’s production is much more spread out than it has been in years past. Fera leads the way with 27 points, Pat Creamer has 25 and Jamie Armstrong has 22, while players like Reilly Miller, Liam Watkinson, Josh Olson, Brandon Mitchell, Brandon Waterman, Jonathan Finelli and Kiel Fuller have all gotten on the board. In all, 17 different Hawks have scored this year a total of 74 times.
That could very well be a recipe for success against Smithfield goaltender Caleb Fetterolf, who has a 3.75 goals against average.
“Offensively we’ve got great balance,” Creamer said. “We’ve gotten production from three, sometimes four lines. We’ve got a number of guys that play a pretty regular shift. They all can contribute.”
Smithfield’s scoring dynamic is much more concentrated. The sentinels lean heavily on senior Nick Gerlach and junior Mike Macera, the top two scorers in Division I. Macera tallied 22 goals this year, while Gerlach scored 17. Matt Simons has also been effective at putting the puck in the net.
That said, in the two games the teams played this year, Macera and Gerlach were held to a combined one goal. Keeping those two reigned in will be a key.
The Hawks’ defense of Bryce Dolan, Matt Kim, Garrett Quillen, Chris Shalvey, Steven Dumond, and Tucker Alberigo will be taking on the task in front of junior goaltender Matt Kenneally, who has a GAA of 1.67 on the year. Fellow junior Christian Maselli has also been effective between the pipes.
“We were able to keep them a little tied up,” Creamer said. “They make a lot of noise. They’re both good players. They work hard. They give themselves a lot of opportunities. We’ll have to continue to stop them.”
The Hawks are now focused on getting the job done.
The opponent should be plenty of motivation.
“We can sort of focus on this season and the Smithfield loss early on,” Creamer said. “That’s the point. The other point is that we want to get beyond this series and get to the finals. This is what’s in front of us.”
Game one of the series will be Friday night at Thayer Arena at 7 p.m., with the second game being played on Saturday at the Smithfield Rink at 8 p.m. Game three, if necessary, will be Monday, with the time and venue still to be determined.
No. 2 Mount will play No. 3 La Salle in other semifinal, with the state championship series scheduled for next weekend.