When it comes to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League hockey state championship, there are three teams in a class of their own.
Over the weekend, all three of those teams – Bishop Hendricken, Mount St. Charles and La Salle – were playing in the 18th annual Mount St. Charles Holiday Face-off Tournament at Adelard Arena, along with five other hockey powers from five different states.
Hendricken rose to the top.
In one of the more prestigious high school hockey tournaments in the Northeast, the Hawks took the title thanks to three wins in three days over some of the best teams the area has to offer.
“It’s good to win a championship,” said Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer. “It’s never easy to win a championship. We only play two of them a year – this tournament and then the league – so to win one of them is an accomplishment.”
The Hawks defeated Connecticut’s Fairfield Prep 4-3 on Thursday to advance to the semifinals, where they beat La Salle 6-3 to move on to Friday night’s title game against New York’s St. Joseph Collegiate.
Then they finished it off. The Hawks got two goals from tournament MVP Andrew Fera and withstood a furious third-period rally from St. Joe’s to gut out a 4-3 win and claim the championship. Joining Fera on the All-Tournament team were sophomore forward Jamie Armstrong, junior goalie Matt Kenneally and freshman defenseman Bryce Dolan.
“It feels amazing,” Fera said. “Up at Mount, their own tournament. We just wanted to show ourselves and everyone what we can accomplish.”
It was Fera’s second goal that proved to be the game-winner.
After Hendricken took a 3-0 lead into the final period, St. Joe’s scored two 4-on-4 goals in the first four minutes of the third, pulling within one and tightening up a game that looked all but over after two periods.
Losing momentum quickly, Hendricken went on a power play thanks to its penalty on the 4-on-4 expiring, and it immediately took advantage. Armstrong held the puck behind the net, then came out to the right circle, where he found Fera in the high slot. Fera controlled the puck and then fired low, beating St. Joe’s goalie Peter Chopra glove side to put the Hawks back up 4-2.
“He’s our go-to guy, and just Mr. Consistent,” Creamer said of Fera. “You get the same thing from Andrew all the time, and that’s the best part about him. That fourth goal was a big one.”
Hendricken needed it.
“Most teams would just break down, but we came back with a vengeance,” Fera said.
Still, the game was far from over, especially when St. Joe’s got back within a goal with over nine minutes to play on a shot by John Schmitt that Matt Ruggiero tipped into the net from in front of the crease.
But nobody panicked. The Hawks committed two penalties in the final six minutes, but St. Joe’s didn’t get any good looks. Anything that did come close to the goal was turned aside by Kenneally, who played eight of the nine periods during the tournament.
Though St. Joe’s ended up out-shooting Hendricken 32-31, it was the Hawks who celebrated at the final buzzer.
“We had three good games, with some highs and some lows,” Creamer said. “But over the course of those three days we did a good job. We got better as a team. We were put in some tough spots, we did a good job. We’re thrilled with the win.”
Fera opened the scoring in the first period with his team on a power play. Tucker Alberigo took a shot from the left wing that was deflected to the stick of Fera at the top of the right circle. He buried a high shot over the left shoulder of Chopra for a 1-0 advantage.
In the second period, the Hawks grabbed another one. Alberigo won a face-off in the offensive zone and Armstrong grabbed the puck and held it behind the net. He faked the wraparound shot and instead passed it to sophomore Brandon Waterman, who scored just in front of the crease.
“We have a lot of depth,” Fera said. “We can roll four lines with ease, and that’s good. Last year I was tired a lot, just going and going and going. This year I feel like I have a break and I can rely on my other teammates.”
Three minutes later, Hendricken made it 3-0. Alberigo won another face-off, this one in the neutral zone, and the puck found the stick of Dolan. He skated over the blue line, made one defender miss and took a shot while falling to the ice that beat Chopra up high for an impressive goal.
St. Joe’s had a chance to cut into the deficit before the intermission, as the Hawks were whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty with 3:19 left, but Hendricken easily killed it off.
Then, it held on for the win.
The other teams in the tournament besides Mount, Hendricken, La Salle, St. Joe’s and Fairfield Prep were New Hampshire’s Bishop Guertin, Massachusetts’s Franklin High School and Pennsylvania’s La Salle College High School.
“You look at it and go, ‘Holy cow,’” Creamer said. “It’s a grind to get through that. You’ve got Fairfield, St. Joe’s, La Salle, La Salle, Mount. It’s daunting. But you just take it day by day.”
Now it’s back to the league schedule, where Hendricken is currently 3-0-1 and one point behind Mount for first place despite playing in one fewer game. The Hawks’ only blemish of the year was a 2-2 tie with La Salle on Saturday, Dec. 21.
Their next game will be Friday night at 8 p.m. against Mount at Thayer Arena. They’ll play La Salle the next night at 9 p.m. at Dennis Lynch Arena.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Creamer said. “We’ve got a lot of things we can do better. But the kids are working exceptionally hard. This is a good reward for them. It wasn’t the prettiest efforts all weekend, but they worked hard. They deserved to have some success here.”