On the final weekend of the regular season, the Warwick girls’ hockey team served notice that it was a contender when it knocked off Mount St. Charles on the strength of a four-goal third period. With the same teams together again in the semifinals of the state playoffs, the Lady Titans could never quite recapture that form.
Mount won 4-1 on Friday night at Adelard Arena then held off a furious rally by Warwick on Saturday at Thayer Arena to win 2-1 and clinch a sweep of the best-of-three series. The second-seeded Mounties will play top-seeded La Salle for the state championship.
Warwick was left with a near-miss.
“Couple of bounces didn’t go our way,” said head coach Dave Tibbetts. “It was tough.”
The Titans were expecting something different. Their 10-7 regular season included the win over Mount plus an overtime loss to La Salle. It was a much different scenario than last year, when the Titans played Mount in the semifinals and lost two 8-1 games.
The Titans came much closer this year, but still couldn’t get over the hump.
That trend started Friday.
Emily Fox gave Warwick a 1-0 lead in the first period of game one, but the Mounties responded with four unanswered goals. Arianna Tourtellot made 32 saves, including several that short-circuited Warwick’s comeback hopes.
“She robbed us point-blank a couple of times,” Tibbetts said. “She was probably the difference in the first game.”
For game two, the Titans returned home and remained confident.
“We knew we had to play better than we did last night,” Fox said. “We were excited that we had the home ice advantage. We were hoping that tonight was going to be our night.”
Warwick’s start was promising. The Titans delivered two good shifts then thought they were in business when they went on the power play just 1:16 into the game.
Instead, they fell into a hole.
The Titans put three shots on net in the first minute of the power play. After Mount cleared the puck, Abby Ellis got control and skated back toward the offensive end. Just as she crossed into the neutral zone, though, Mount’s Elisabeth Berard poked the puck away from her and took off. She was all alone and just beat Kayleen Murphy for the short-handed goal. Mount led 1-0 with 11:54 left in the first.
“Abby hasn’t done that all year,” Tibbetts said. “She’s our best puck carrier. Berard’s a good fore-checker. Kay just missed making the save.”
As deflating as the goal was, the Titans held tough and ended up out-shooting Mount 11-7 in the first period. But the Titans also struggled to maintain a rhythm thanks in part to a parade of penalties. They picked up three penalties in the first period, one of which carried into the second. Just over a minute after that one ended, the Titans were whistled for another on a checking call.
This time, the Mounties took advantage, with Briana Castro scoring on a wrist shot from the left circle. Berard assisted. Mount led 2-0 with 11:05 left in the second period.
Warwick was whistled for eight penalties overall, a season-high.
“The momentum, with the penalties, we just couldn’t get it going,” Tibbetts said.
Still, the Lady Titans remained within striking distance. Murphy made a diving glove save to stop a breakaway chance for the Mounties late in the second period. In the final seconds, Fox skated her way to an opening in the slot, but Tourtellot saved the shot.
In the locker room between periods, the Titans envisioned a comeback.
“We’ve come from behind a lot and we’ve won a bunch of games that way,” Tibbetts said. “We feel our conditioning is really good, and we’re rolling three lines most of the game. We feel we have the energy to do it. We felt confident. We didn’t feel like it would be easy, but we felt like we had a good chance – we were within two goals. We felt good about it. We knew we had to put everything we could into the period.”
The Titans came up empty on a few good looks early in the third, but broke through with 7:08 left when Kelsey Holmes tallied a short-handed goal on a breakaway.
Less than 20 seconds later, the Titans nearly tied it when Fox got open on the back side. But her shot from the right circle was turned away.
Still, the Titans had momentum and they continued to push as hard as they had all night. Madison Balutowski had a good look after a Julianna Mollo steal, but Tourtellot saved it. With 4:10 left, Ellis skated into open ice on the right side and put a good shot on net. Tourtellot made a kick save.
A minute later, Balutowski slipped a pass from behind the net to Holmes in front but the shot skipped wide. A blast in traffic by Fox also went wide with 2:45 left. Tourtellot then saved a slap shot by Casey McCormick at the 1:45 mark.
From there, the situation got desperate. Holmes was whistled for a boarding penalty with 1:12 left. Warwick managed to break the puck out twice against the Mount power play and pulled the goalie with 30 seconds left.
Nothing materialized over the next few seconds, but with just 12 seconds to go, the Mounties were whistled for a penalty. Warwick called timeout to set up for a faceoff in the offensive zone, on the right side. Fox won the faceoff and slipped the puck behind her to a wide open McCormick. She put it on net, but Tourtellot made the stop. The Titans had a look at the rebound before Tourtellot smothered it.
That gave Warwick another faceoff with eight seconds to go, but nothing developed this time and the final seconds ticked away.
“We had a good, strong third period,” Tibbetts said. “We had a good face-off play at the end. It just didn’t work out.”
Tourtellot made 32 saves for the second night in a row, giving her 64 for the weekend.
“We had enough shots,” Tibbetts said. “They were all right at her. We finally started shooting low and we got some rebounds. We just didn’t capitalize on them.”
Berard finished the series with three goals and two assists, while Castro had a goal and two assists. Murphy saved 24 shots in game two for the Titans, after saving 34 on Friday.
The Titans were emotional after the loss, but looked for perspective. The season was the team’s first in Division I, and Warwick more than held its own.
“We’re disappointed the way it ended, obviously, but we’ve come a long way in a short time,” said head coach Dave Tibbetts. “We’re really proud of all the kids.”
Added Murphy: “We’re definitely happy with the season. It’s the best we’ve ever done. We made such large improvements this year.”
The Titans will bid farewell to a strong group of seniors, including captains Fox, Murphy and McCormick. Fox became the first player in program history to 100 points earlier this year.
They’ve left the program better than the way they found it, and with a young core returning, optimism is still running high.
“We’re going to miss them. It’ll be tough to fill their shoes, but we have a lot of talented young kids in that locker room,” Tibbetts said. “We’ll fill the holes. We’ll be optimistic again next year.”