The Hendricken hockey team was pushed hard on Friday in the first game of its semifinal match-up with Burrillville in the State Championship playoffs. On Saturday, the Broncos pushed even harder.
But both days, the Hawks were up to the challenge.
After toughing out a 4-2 victory on Friday at Thayer Arena, top-seeded Hendricken overcame a 2-0 deficit in the second game to win 3-2, sweep fourth-seeded Burrillville and advance to the state championship for the second consecutive season. The Hawks will take on the winner of Monday’s game between No. 2 Mount St. Charles and No. 3 La Salle. Those results were unavailable at press time.
“It’s funny, Friday night they were tough,” Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer said. “We sort of expected that. That really might have helped us going into Saturday night. We knew what we were going to get from them. We got that and maybe a little bit more.”
Following a scoreless first period on Saturday, Burrillville got goals from Zach Keach and Patrick Callanan in the first five minutes of the second. With goaltender Jacob Topack playing stingy in net, the Broncos were in strong position to force a decisive game three on Monday.
Hendricken called a timeout, and regrouped. The message? Keep it up, and something will have to give.
“We had outshot them in the first period, but their goaltender was playing well,” Creamer said. “After the timeout, we had a couple good shifts. Our fourth line gave us a great shift.”
And finally, the Hawks broke through.
With just over four minutes left in the period, senior Robbie Buehrer scored on a partial breakaway down the right side, slicing Burrillville’s lead in half.
“I think that’s a credit to our seniors and our juniors,” Creamer said. “I think we knew we were playing pretty well, and if we could just get one we could sort of crack them a little bit.”
That’s exactly what happened. Just one minute and 15 seconds later, following a faceoff in Burrillville’s zone, freshman Matt Creamer slipped one by Topack, knotting the game at two heading into the final period.
With the Broncos on their heels, Hendricken struck again early in the third period. The Hawks broke out on a three-on-one break just 2:55 in, and Matt Creamer put them on top with a hard shot into the top corner of the goal. It was the team’s third goal in a seven minutes and five second span.
“That sort of took the air out of their tires a little bit, I thought,” Jim Creamer said.
Firmly in command at that point, Hendricken controlled play for the final 12 minutes, and goalie Billy Palmer turned away any shots that he saw. For the game, Palmer saved 22 of 24 shots.
And soon enough, the final buzzer sounded and Hendricken had earned its second consecutive hard-fought victory. This one, though, put them one step closer to the title.
“They battled,” Creamer said. “I like to think that we were in control. Again, I thought Burrillville did an outstanding job all weekend. They really never gave up.”
Toback made 42 saves in net for Burrillville, but he was pressured all game. It was a big upgrade from the first game, in which Hendricken got only 21 shots on him.
“I think we did a great job of getting the puck to the net on Saturday night,” Creamer said. “[Toback] was playing very well. We needed to do that.”
In the first game of the series, Hendricken jumped out on top 1-0 when Justin Finan scored on a goal at the 9:09 mark in the first period, assisted by Buehrer and Austin Navarro.
The Broncos tied the game with three minutes left in the second period when Drew Buxton ripped a shot off of Palmer from the low slot, but Hendricken re-took the lead one minute and 10 seconds later on a Matt Creamer shot from a tough angle on the right side of the goal.
That made it 2-1 entering the third, and Hendricken added to its lead with a goal from David Mitchell off a perfect pass from Paul Filippone just over one minute into the period.
Nineteen seconds later, Burrillville got back within one goal when Mitchell Lafond scored, but the Hawks put the game away on an empty-net goal from Filippone with 32 seconds remaining.
“It wasn’t perfect, but we did what we had to do,” Jim Creamer said.
Now, Hendricken will turn its attention toward either La Salle or Mount. The Rams took game one of the series 2-1, followed by the Mounties staving off elimination with a 3-2 overtime victory on Saturday night.
The Hawks, however, will be fine with whichever team ends up being their final obstacle.
“Really no big preference,” Creamer said on Monday. “We’ll see what happens tonight, and play whoever shows up.”
The championship series begins this coming weekend, with game one to be played Friday or Saturday, depending on the opponent.