The Warwick girls’ hockey team has taken a tumble in the standings over the last few weeks, losing three games in a row and dropping to fourth place in the five-team Emma Division.
In Sunday’s non-league match-up against second-place Mount St. Charles, though, the Titans showed they’re still formidable. Thanks to a dominant first two periods and strong goaltending from both Kayleen Murphy and Arielle Frank, Warwick out-lasted the Mounties 5-3 in the third game of the Andrew J. Gauthier Hockey Festival at Thayer Arena.
The Titans remained at 4-5 in league play, while Mount is 7-2. But Warwick is hoping that Sunday’s performance will help it get back on the right track.
“We’ve been working really hard,” Warwick head coach Dave Tibbetts said. “Our record doesn’t show it the past few weeks, because we’ve been decimated with injuries and kids being sick. They’ve really been battling hard. Everyone’s been working together great. I can’t be more proud of how they’ve been playing. Both in practice and the games too.”
Two weeks ago, Warwick lost to unbeaten La Salle on a Friday night, then dropped a tough 4-3 game the following night to the South County co-op team. This past Saturday, Warwick suffered another tough loss, this one 4-3 to the Burrillville/Ponaganset co-op team.
Getting a win of any type – even in a non-league game – was a welcomed change of pace.
“We’re just going to see where we end up, try our best, keep working hard and get better every week,” Tibbetts said. “We feel we can beat everybody if we just put together 45 minutes of the kind of hockey we can play when we’re all healthy.”
The Titans played without sophomore Abby Ellis, one of the state’s top players, who is recovering from a concussion, while Mount also held out a few players of its own.
Still, Warwick came out aggressively, and it showed almost immediately.
In the opening minute, Mount put a shot on Warwick goalie Kayleen Murphy, who made the save and sent a pass out to the wing. That began a Warwick charge up the ice.
Savannah Hersey, from the right wing, fired a shot on net that Mount goalie Ari Tourtellot turned aside, but Warwick freshman Madison Balutowski was there to back-hand in the rebound for a 1-0 lead.
That goal came just 43 seconds into the game.
“They’re an aggressive team, they have a little bit of speed, they have a lot of experience on that first line, especially,” Tibbetts said. “We played well.”
Murphy kept Mount off the board for the entire first period while Warwick kept the pressure on. Tourtellot did her part too, robbing Kelsey Holmes later in the period and Emily Fox on a breakaway as time was winding down.
In the second period, Warwick replaced Murphy in net with Arielle Frank, and she continued the stellar play.
Then, the Titans gave her a little insurance. Fifty-one seconds into a power play, Fox skated from her own blue line all the way to the Mount net, and she faked out Tourtellot before scoring on a simple wrist shot to put Warwick up 2-0.
Three minutes later, Frank stoned Mount’s Alexis Ragan on a breakaway. With 5:48 to play in the period, Mount went on a power play and then a 5-on-3, but couldn’t get one past Frank.
“All the goalies did a great job,” Tibbetts said.
With 2:04 left in the period, Tourtellot was hurt, and the referees elected to end the period there and then have the teams play a 17:04 third period.
In that third period, Warwick goaltender Erin Vermilye played for Mount with Tourtellot injured. She was greeted a few minutes in by a goal from Warwick’s Casey McCormick on a strong move coming from left to right, putting the Titans ahead 3-0 with 10:43 to play.
But Mount didn’t go away. Off the ensuing faceoff, Mounties’ standout Briana Castro took the puck and went straight down the ice before beating Frank for the goal. That came just six seconds after McCormick’s goal, and it cut the deficit to two goals.
Forty two seconds later, Mount went on the power play and Elisabeth Berard skated behind the net, came around in front and scored, suddenly making it a one-goal game.
Tibbetts thinks his team – which played a game the night before and had two scrimmages during the week – was simply a little tired.
“They’re at the end of the line at this point,” Tibbetts said.
Murphy returned to the game in net, and Warwick gave her a little insurance. Fox took a shot that went wide of the net, but the puck rebounded off the boards and came out in front. Holmes was positioned perfectly, and she swept it into the goal for an important goal, making it 4-2.
“Our forwards have been great,” Tibbetts said. “We’ve been working hard with them on blocking shots, taking up space. All the little parts of the game are coming together.”
Mount still didn’t throw in the towel, getting another goal with 4:04 remaining when Melanie Foster fired a shot on net that was tipped in by Castro, again making it a one-goal game.
From there, though, Murphy did her part, denying Castro on a breakaway and turning aside another shot moments later. With just over a minute left, Mount pulled its goalie and Warwick took advantage, getting an empty net goal from Balutowski to put the game away.
The game was far different then the first time Warwick played Mount this year, a 6-1 loss on Dec. 22.
And with the tail end of the regular season beginning, the Titans will try to get healthy and put some wins together to get themselves in position for a playoff run.
They’ll be in action again on Friday at URI’s Brad Boss Arena against Bay View at 7 p.m. before taking on Barrington/Mt. Hope/Portsmouth at Benny Mageria Arena Saturday at 9 p.m.
“We’re doing our best without [Ellis] there,” Tibbetts said. “With everyone back, once we get some momentum, I think we’re going to start putting it together really well.”