It hasn’t been an ideal start for either the Pilgrim or Toll Gate boys’ hockey teams this season, but a match-up between the two on Saturday provided the opportunity for at least one team to take a step in the right direction.
The Patriots took the reigns, emphatically.
Pilgrim dominated play most of the night against its cross-city rival, out-shooting the Titans 29-10 on its way to a 3-1 victory that never quite seemed that close. Toll Gate stayed winless, while the Pats picked up their first victory of the season.
Joe Paliotte scored twice, and Dean Russo had two assists. Ryan Oatley had the other goal, while Sean Vittum notched the only tally for the Titans.
“It’s our first win,” Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup said. “We’ll take that.”
It also marked the second straight game in which the Pats picked up at least one point, as they tied East Greenwich 1-1 on New Year’s Eve. They’re now 1-3-1, in third-place in Division-II-South.
The Titans are 0-6, and are the only team in D-II without a victory. Saturday added to their mounting frustration.
“I’m very disappointed,” Toll Gate head coach Mike Champagne said. “I know we’re better than this. I really think guys believe they’re putting in their best effort, but as a young team it’s a learning process of realizing that there’s a little bit more in what you need to do.”
Toll Gate fell behind the eight-ball early. Oatley found the back of the net just eight minutes into the game, with assists from Russo and Sam Adamo, and Paliotte scored for the first time just 54 seconds later on assists from Russo and Patrick Reilly.
That gave Pilgrim a quick two-goal advantage, its first such lead of the season.
“Pilgrim was physical, they were aggressive,” Champagne said. “They got going north and south and made it really difficult on us. But I think we also made it difficult on ourselves by the effort – not generating shots on goal, getting too cute, looking for a perfect play.”
Any breathing room was short-lived for the Pats, though, as Vittum scored for Toll Gate just nine seconds after Paliotte’s goal, with Chris Williams and Nolan O’Brien earning assists.
The score remained that way through the first period, where Pilgrim out-shot Toll Gate 10-4. In the second period, the Pats controlled play even more. They out-shot the Titans 10-2 and again upped their lead back to two goals.
With 1:08 left in the period, Paliotte fired a shot from the point that deflected off a Toll Gate player and came right back to Paliotte’s stick. He gathered the puck, skated to the right circle and then took another shot, which slid between Toll Gate goalie David Stachurski’s legs for a goal.
“These last two games we’re playing the lower teams, if you will, in the league and we’re dominating,” Tvenstrup said. “But we’re not finishing. We need to do more of that.”
The Pats actually played much of the second period short-handed, having to kill three penalties. Yet, even with the man-advantage, Toll Gate just couldn’t seem to generate any offensive punch. Pilgrim’s penalty killers had little problem clearing the puck.
“A lot of that is that some guys might not have the confidence in their shot and they’re looking to get perfect,” Champagne said. “But if you can use screens, if you can just have traffic and get after it, things will happen. It doesn’t have to be a snipe upper-corner. They think every goal needs to be on YouTube or plays of the night.”
The score would have gotten further apart in the third period if not for the play of Stachurski, who made nine saves, including consecutive ones on Nolan McCusker two minutes into the period. At the eight-minute mark, Stachurski turned aside a breakaway shot from Liam Strain.
Not finishing has been a problem for the Pats, who out-shot East Greenwich 40-14 on New Year’s, but still came away with the 1-1 tie.
“I think we need to work on our goal scorers getting more pucks in the net,” Tvenstrup said. “That’s important and it’s going to be important when we play the better teams.”
Toll Gate nearly cut the lead in half in the game’s final minute, as Vittum got loose near Pilgrim’s goal and had a decent look from just outside the crease, only to be denied by Pats’ goaltender Kam Murphy, who made nine saves in the game.
But that was the last threat, as the Pats were able to play keep away from then until the final whistle.
The win was another clear indication that Pilgrim is improving. Early in the season, it lost 8-3 to East Greenwich before redeeming itself with the 1-1 tie.
The Pats will need to showcase that improvement even more going forward if they want to get back in the division race, as they have two big games coming up this weekend. On Friday, they’ll play South Kingstown at 8 p.m. at Thayer Arena. The next night, they’ll play North Kingstown at 6:30 p.m., also at Thayer. The Rebels and Skippers are the two teams directly above Pilgrim in the division.
When the Pats played North Kingstown earlier in the season, on Dec. 13, they lost 9-1.
“I’m excited to see NK next weekend,” Tvenstrup said. “That’s a good team, but I think they’re not 9-1 better than us or whatever they beat us by last time. Assuming we come out with these types of efforts and we start to finish some goals, then it could look very different.”
Toll Gate will be searching for that elusive first win this weekend, and should have a couple of decent chances at it. On Friday, it will play against 1-6 Mt. Hope at the Smithfield Rink at 7 p.m. The next night, it will play against 1-5 Johnston/North Providence, also at Smithfield. That game is scheduled for 6 p.m.
“We need to get a little bit of success to say, ‘That’s it. That’s what we need to do,’” Champagne said. “We’re just a step away from that.”