With only three teams in the state’s top hockey division this season, the games between them are even bigger than usual. Bishop Hendricken, La Salle and Mount St. Charles will play each other three times each and those will be the only chances to gain direct separation on their Division I-Cimini rivals.
That meant Friday’s showdown between Hendricken and La Salle at Thayer Arena was circled on the calendar for both teams. It was the first meeting between any Cimini teams this year, and the defending state champion Hawks made it count, scoring two goals in the first two minutes and holding off a challenge from the Rams to win 3-2.
“We’re only playing six of these games,” said Hendricken head coach Jim Creamer. “They’re spread out, too, so it’s important to win them. They’re all going to be like this – good, close games. They always are and they always will be. So when you get one like we did tonight, you’re pretty happy.”
For the Hawks, there was also another incentive. With Friday’s game in the books, they won’t play another league game until Jan. 1. They wanted to hit that break on a high note.
“It’s huge,” said senior Ed Markowski. “We know we don’t play any games until the new year. We knew this would be big to play a good team and try to get on top of the standings.”
Hendricken, which had beaten Burrillville 5-1 in its opener two weeks ago, wasted no time taking control on Friday. With just 1:34 off the clock, Hendricken’s third line generated an odd-man rush. Junior Joshua Olson ended up with a good look on the right side and he buried it past La Salle goalie Tyler Walsh for the early 1-0 lead. Tucker Alberigo had the assist.
Just 22 seconds later, the Hawks struck again. Markowski carried the puck toward the net from the right circle and hit a shot from close range. It caromed off Walsh and bounced into the air near the left post, where a La Salle defender tried to glove it but instead bumped it into the net.
Markowski was credited with the goal.
“We got a nice play on the Olson goal,” Creamer said. “The next line came out with some energy and they really had a nice presence in front of the net. I think their guy knocked it in, but we were forcing the issue.”
The result was quite a head start.
“Getting a two goal lead and getting comfortable was great,” Creamer said. “We have great goaltending so if we get a lead like that, we feel pretty good about ourselves.”
La Salle had the better of the action in the rest of the period and actually out-shot the Hawks 10-8 in the first. Just 1:21 into the second period, the Rams broke through. Jason Delisle and Brendon Cordeiro got loose for a two-on-one, and Delisle slipped a pass from the right to a wide open Cordeiro, who tucked a shot into the net to make it 2-1.
Both teams threatened over the next few minutes, but it was the Hawks who came through with the next goal. On a power play, Matt Creamer hit a shot from the left wing that Walsh deflected. The rebound kicked to Markowski on the far post and he easily put it in for the 3-1 lead.
The Rams again served notice that they wouldn’t go quietly when Nicholas Battista scored just 2:15 into the third period, but the Hawks held strong from there. Goalie Mitch Proulx made five saves in the rest of the period and Hendricken managed to kill off two penalties.
“We did a nice job,” Creamer said. “I knew we’d be in a situation like that. I thought, eventually, we’d have to kill one or two. We’re comfortable like that. It comes down to goaltending. It’s easier to be in those situations with him back there.”
Proulx, a senior, has allowed three goals in two games while making 51 saves.
“He’s playing well,” Creamer said.
The Hawks are sitting atop the overall Division I standings, ahead of D-I-Eccleston teams Smithfield and Coventry, who are both 2-1. Mount St. Charles has played just one league game so far and is 1-0.
In addition to its league games, Hendricken also scrimmaged Massachusetts power Malden Catholic last week and came away with a 2-1 victory.
“It was a good week for us,” Creamer said. “I don’t think [the La Salle game] was the prettiest game, but we’ve been sick we had some tough scrimmages. They did a good job tonight, considering.”
The Hawks won’t play again until the Mount St. Charles holiday tournament the week after Christmas. Their next league game is Jan. 1 against Coventry.