Friday’s first period wasn’t great, but if the Toll Gate hockey team could put the struggles behind it and get a victory, that first period wouldn’t much matter. In a playoff chase, a win’s a win.
But the Titans could never put it completely behind them.
Steve Matthews cut a 2-0 deficit in half with a goal early in the second period, but the Titans never got the equalizer and ended up with a disappointing 2-1 loss to previously winless North Smithfield. The Titans have now lost two league games in a row, and they dropped to 4-7-1.
“This time of year, it doesn’t matter what it looks like or how you get it done, but you’ve got to come out and get the two points,” said Toll Gate head coach Bill Russo. “We’re battling for that last playoff spot. You couldn’t tell tonight that we were a team on the bubble looking to get into the playoffs. You couldn’t tell at all.”
North Smithfield came in with an 0-8-1 record but had been in a host of close games, including one against Toll Gate. The Titans beat the Northmen 3-1 on Jan. 7.
On Friday, it was the Northmen who took control. Less than four minutes in, Thomas Bourgeois slipped a pass from behind the net to an open Dylan Narodowy, who punched in an easy shot for the 1-0 lead. It was just the second time this season that the Northmen scored the first goal of a game.
And they weren’t done.
With 46 seconds left in the first, Toll Gate was whistled for a penalty. Just before time expired in the period, Jordan Menard ripped a slap shot from the blue into the net for the 2-0 lead.
“We came out slow in that first period,” Russo said. “Down 2-0 after the first. I’m just very disappointed with the effort we brought tonight. No excuse for it. North Smithfield came out hungry. They played hard, they played tough and we didn’t have an answer for them.”
In the huddle between periods, the Titans focused on getting the next goal, and they did that with relative ease. Three minutes into the second period, Matthews muscled a loose puck into the net to make it 2-1. Michael Palumbo and Kevin Vittum had the assists.
Getting the next goal after that proved to be the hard part. The Titans put five shots on net in the second period but didn’t get many great looks. In the third period, they out-shot the Northmen 9-5 but still couldn’t find the net.
With 10:42 left, Vittum got himself a good look on a rush but goalie Erik Pelletier made the save. Pelletier stopped a one-timer by Ryan Charette later in the period, then held strong during a sustained Toll Gate possession a few minutes after that.
In the final minute, Vittum got loose again but had a bad angle on the net and couldn’t get the shot past Pelletier. Toll Gate pulled the goalie soon after and Kyle Ellis sent a strong slap-shot through traffic, but Pelletier was again up to the task.
The Titans didn’t get another good look.
“We needed these two big points tonight and we didn’t give it a 45-minute effort,” Russo said. “It wasn’t even close to it.”
The Titans have now lost three games in a row, including a non-league game to South Kingstown.
“We’ve definitely hit a skid,” Russo said. “I go back a couple of weeks and we had a good win over PCD, a close game with Cumberland and a tie with Pilgrim. We had the wheels turning, but we’ve definitely hit a rough patch now. There’s not one or two things I can put my finger on. It’s a bunch of things. Tonight, it was lack of effort.”
The Titans were scheduled to play Coventry on Saturday night, but that game was postponed due to snow. They’ll try to get back on track Friday at 8 p.m. when they host PCD/Wheeler/St. Ray’s at Thayer Arena.