The Pilgrim hockey team didn’t have the start to the season that it was hoping for, but with a couple of strong performances this past weekend, the Pats are suddenly trending in the right direction.
Pilgrim, which began the season 0-4, defeated the Johnston/North Providence co-op team 9-3 on Friday night and then came back to beat Portsmouth 4-2 on Saturday. Now at 2-4 overall, and playing at near full strength after battling injuries and a few other issues, the Pats are feeling good about the way they’re playing.
“Like I just told them, it’s a long time coming,” Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup said on Friday. “We’re happy with tonight’s effort. We’ve been struggling with putting a complete game together.”
Heading into the weekend, Pilgrim had scored just seven goals over its first four games before adding 13 to its total in just two games.
Against JNP, Dylan LeGarie and freshman Liam Strain each scored three times, while Sam Adamo, Nolan McCusker and Matt Parente scored as well.
The next night, against Portsmouth, Legarie scored two more times while Adamo and Ryan Oatley also scored.
“We’re going to get our goals by crashing the net and putting the puck on the net and crashing,” Tvenstrup said on Friday. “That’s what we did today. Six of our nine goals came from the point. They came because we put the puck on the net and we had guys in front.”
Beating JNP on Friday was key for the Pats, as the Panthers came in as a fellow winless team. Pilgrim felt it could take advantage, but struggled some in the first period.
While the Pats controlled play, they only led 1-0 on a goal by Strain after the first 15 minutes. JNP, meanwhile, had multiple opportunities.
Stephen Morrison was disruptive up front, and as the period was winding down Chris O’Brien ripped a hard slap shot that Pilgrim goalie Kam Murphy turned away.
“We’ve been doing that a lot,” Fred Morrison said. “Against Cumberland jumped out 2-0 quick. We stayed 2-0 for a long time, and it ended up only 4-0. We’ve been hanging in there.”
One problem for the Panthers – and a positive for the Pats – was JNP’s inability to score on the power play. In that first period, it had one power play opportunity, and they had three early in the second period as well.
They came up empty on all four chances.
“Our penalty kill has been great all season,” LeGarie said. “We played well again tonight.”
Then, the floodgates opened. LeGarie threw a puck on net in the middle of the second and Sam Adamo tipped it in to up the lead to 2-0.
Just over a minute later, LeGarie fired home a slap shot from just in front of the blue line on the left point to make it 3-0. Five minutes after that, Oatley won a faceoff for the Pats and dropped the puck back to McCusker, who fired the puck past JNP goaltender Joseph Peters for a four-goal advantage.
“Tonight we pretty much put a complete game together,” Tvenstrup said. “With the talent pool that we were playing, that’s going to be the result.”
The Panthers didn’t give up, however, as they got on the board with 27 seconds left in the period. John Gibau won a faceoff in the offensive zone, and Matt Charello was there to backhand the puck past Pilgrim’s Devon Gamba – who replaced Kam Murphy in net early in the second period – to cut into the deficit and make it 4-1.
Yet, with five seconds remaining in the period, the Pats struck again, with Adamo scoring quickly off a faceoff win.
“Different division, different speed,” Morrison said. “At times, we look like we can play with them and other times they look mesmerized by the play.”
Three minutes into the third period, Pilgrim’s Paliotte rifled a slap shot from just above the left-wing circle that trickled through Peters for the Pats’ sixth goal. Peters came out of the game at that point and was replaced by Andrew Costa-Curtis.
Three minutes later, Oatley put a shot on Costa-Curtis and Parente swept home a rebound to make it 7-1.
“We still have some more work to do,” LeGarie said. “But it’s nice to get a win and play well.”
Pilgrim added a goal from Strain for an 8-1 lead before JNP put together its best stretch of the night.
First, with 6:34 to play, Gibau made a perfect pass to Nick Threshier in front, and Threshier slid it past Gamba for the Panthers’ second goal of the game. Minutes later, Threshier scored on a strong slap shot from the left side to make it 8-3.
“We put a couple in late,” Morrison said. “We were down 7-0 to Prout, a real strong team, and we scored. That shows me they’re not giving up. That’s what’s most important to me.”
The three goals JNP scored was its highest output of the season, as it has scored just five goals total in its five games.
Pilgrim added one more goal, which came shorthanded by Legarie with 1:50 to play, providing the final margin.
Gamba saved 13 of 16 shots in net, while Murphy saved all eight shots he faced. Against Portsmouth, Gamba saved 20 of 22 shots.
All in all, the Pats were pleased. Now they’ll try to keep it going.
Their next game is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. against North Smithfield at Thayer Arena.
“We took a little while to get going, but I hope this is a momentum changer,” Tvenstrup said. “I’m happy with the way they played this game tonight. We’ve got to build on it.”