The Toll Gate hockey team came back from a pair of one-goal deficits on Saturday night to grab a 2-2 tie with cross-town rival Pilgrim at Thayer Arena.
It was a result that left each team feeling a little different.
For Pilgrim, the tie felt like more of the same. The Pats lost to Cumberland 2-1 the night before, their first loss of the season. The tie dropped them to 3-1-1.
On the flip side, Toll Gate was feeling pretty good about itself. The Titans had lost to Pilgrim two weeks before so a tie was a step in the right direction. Mix in a 6-4 victory over Ponaganset on Friday night, and the Titans had a pretty solid weekend. Toll Gate is now 2-3-1 on the season.
“We did a lot of the little things right tonight that we haven’t done to this point – going hard to the net, winning the battles for loose pucks,” said Toll Gate head coach Bill Russo. “We’re really emphasizing the little things and doing those right. All in all, I’m very happy with the effort we played with tonight.”
For a while, it looked like Toll Gate’s effort would go for naught. After the Titans came back from a 1-0 deficit in the second period, Pilgrim jumped back on top when Nick McGuirl tallied a goal with 3:10 left in the second period.
The Titans came back strong in the third, though, and tied the game on Casey Correia’s goal with 7:12 left. Both teams had chances to bust through after that, but neither could break the tie.
“To be honest, I think we’re leaving wins on the ice,” said Pilgrim head coach Dave Tober. “We came into this weekend 3-0. We had a good first weekend. We beat North Smithfield last weekend but I didn’t think we played that well. Last night, we definitely should have taken care of Cumberland and we didn’t. Tonight, it’s a tie and we get a point out of it, but we need to play better than this.”
After a scoreless first period, Pilgrim tallied the game’s first goal just 37 seconds into the second period. McGuirl slipped behind the defense in the neutral zone, headed for the net and buried a shot past goalie David Stachurski for the 1-0 Pilgrim lead.
But the lead didn’t last long.
With 12:53 left in the second period, Pilgrim’s Cody Weaver was whistled for interference. A minute-and-a-half into the power play, Toll Gate’s Steve Matthews punched in a loose puck on the right side to tie the game.
“The one thing about tonight is that there were a lot of momentum shifts,” Russo said. “It was back-and-forth all night long.”
The action was ragged for the rest of the second period, with Pilgrim picking up three more penalties and Toll Gate getting two. In that span, though, the Pats managed to find the net again. Soon after Toll Gate had a goal waved off because of a penalty, the Pats regained the lead. McGuirl and Weaver got loose on a 2-on-1, and Weaver slid a perfect pass on the right to McGuirl, who scored for the 2-1 lead.
Thankfully for Toll Gate, there was another momentum swing coming. With 7:12 left in the third period, Matthews made a pass from the left corner to the front of the net. After it bounced around, it ended up on the stick of Correia, who had no trouble finishing.
The goal was part of an impressive period for the Titans, who out-shot Pilgrim 12-6.
“Strong third period,” Russo said. “The season’s young, but we’ve been in that kind of situation quite a few times already. We said to them in the locker room, ‘Let’s not be on the short end of the stick again tonight.’ We battled back and got a good goal from Casey Correia to tie it up.”
The goal and the shot differential was a bad sign for the Pats, who had controlled the third period in all their previous games.
“We lost the period,” Tober said. “We try to pride ourselves on being a third-period team, and up until tonight, our best period has been the third. We beat Coventry in the third period, we beat Toll Gate the first time in the third period and we beat North Smithfield in the third. This the first third period we’ve lost.”
Both teams were kept off the board in overtime, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Weaver had a shot bang off the cross-bar with 1:45 left, while Toll Gate made four strong pushes in the five-minute period.
“It was just a hard effort on both teams’ part, up and down all night long,” Russo said. “A few bounces here or there, and that game could have gone either way.”
Devon Gamba made 36 saves for Pilgrim, while Stachurski stopped 31 shots for the Titans. The performance by Stachurski looked even better considering the fact that Pilgrim touched him up for five goals in the teams’ first meeting.
“First couple of games, he kind of picked up where he left off last season, but his last three games, going back to Cumberland, he’s been great,” Russo said. “Against Cumberland, they had 45 shots and he had 44 saves. He carried it over into tonight. He’s really stepping up big for us.”
Stachurski’s performance means the Titans have some options as they move forward. Senior Josh Giarrantano is slated to return to the team this week after serving a league suspension.
“We get Josh back and we’ll have those two guys pushing each other,” Russo said. “That’s a good thing. But I’m very happy with the way David has played the last few weeks. He’s given us a chance to win hockey games, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Toll Gate will be back in action Friday against Coventry as it continues a busy month. The Titans have played more games than every other team but one in Division II.
They’ll also be busy next week as they host Mt. Hope, Lincoln and Cumberland in the Toll Gate Holiday Tournament at Thayer Arena. The tourney is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, with games beginning at 5 p.m.
“This is the busiest month of December I can ever remember,” Russo said. “We have a couple of guys hurt, and I told them they’d probably miss three or four games. I think with all our tournament games coming up, we’ll have 10 or 11 games in the month of December. It’s a lot of action right out of the gate. We’re in good shape and we’re coming to battle every night. So far, so good. We’ve got to keep it up. The trick is to be able to bottle up what we did tonight and bring it back on a night-to-night basis.”
Pilgrim won’t be quite as busy for the rest of the month. The Pats have this coming weekend off before facing Ponaganset on Dec. 30. The Pats will use their practice time to work on their defensive coverages and their movement in the offensive zone, two of the biggest issues Tober saw this weekend.
They’ll try to take care of business the next time they take the ice.
“We have to take advantage,” Tober said. “When points are up for grabs, you have to take them. There are 14 teams in Division II, and there are a lot of good teams. It’s going to be a battle for a spot. When two points are there, you’ve got to take them. I’m not happy just taking one.”