The rivalry between Pilgrim and Warwick Vets is fierce in every sport, but it hasn’t had a chapter played out on the ice in several years. The Hurricanes’ hockey program moved to Division III in 2007, while Pilgrim has remained in Division II.
In the nightcap of Sunday’s Andrew J. Gauthier Hockey Festival, the rivalry was renewed and it brought out the best in both sides. Pilgrim prevailed 6-5, netting a season-high in goals and getting an opportunity to play everybody, while Vets rose to the occasion and delivered perhaps its best performance of the season.
“I’m pleased,” said Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup. “I’m glad we got to do this with these guys.”
Both teams have struggled this season – Pilgrim came in at 1-6-1 in D-II while Vets was 1-6 in D-III – but they were both glad to leave the rink with something to build on.
Bryant Palermo delivered a hat trick for the Pats with three power-play goals. Vets fought the whole way and made a late charge on a goal with 29 seconds left, but Pilgrim held off the final push to escape with the victory.
“The boys stepped it up for the cross-town rivalry we had here,” said Vets head coach Mike Boyajian. “That team is better than the majority of teams we’ve played this year. The guys came ready to play today. It was good. Vets-Pilgrim, they got up for it.”
The teams went scoreless for more than eight minutes before a Vets penalty opened the door. The Pats have struggled on the power play all season, but Palermo made this one count. The senior defenseman ripped a slap shot from the right circle to give the Pats a 1-0 lead with 3:48 left in the first period. Joe Paliotte and Stephen Russo assisted.
“We’ve been struggling with power plays all year,” Tvenstrup said. “We might not have more than a couple of power play goals all year. It was nice to see it work a little better.”
The first-period deficit was a familiar spot for the ’Canes, but the response was anything but familiar. Just 37 seconds after the goal, Pilgrim picked up a penalty. On the ensuing faceoff, just three seconds into the man-advantage, Tyler DiPetrillo got loose in the slot and slipped a shot past Pilgrim goalie Cameron Gagnon. David Kowalik assisted.
“They could have easily gotten down, but they didn’t quit the fight,” Boyajian said. “That’s something that’s been inconsistent throughout the season. I think once they gained some confidence, playing a team that’s a division up, you’re hanging in there, they did great. That’s what they have to do.”
The ’Canes took the lead two minutes later on a goal by Kowalik, with an assist by Jacob Mitchell. Pilgrim tied the game with 28 seconds left in the first period when Sam Adamo skated across the slot and snuck a wrist shot past Vets goalie Michael Palombo.
The second period followed a similar back-and-forth script. Denver Cherms put Pilgrim back in front with 7:03 left, on assists by Palermo and Patrick Reilly. Vets answered again on a slap-shot from the point by Timothy Chaffee less than a minute later. Pilgrim went ahead with 1:18 left on another power play by goal by Palermo, with an assist to Russo.
In the third, the Pats seemed to finally be pulling away. Palermo netted his third power-play goal with 10:03 left to give Pilgrim its first two-goal lead. Still, though, Vets didn’t go away. With 7:36 left, Gregory Fontaine muscled in a shot to make it 5-4. Kowalik and Mitchell assisted.
Both teams threatened to score over the next six minutes but it was Pilgrim that broke through. With 1:18 left, Paliotte got himself free in the neutral zone and buried a shot from just past the blue line to make it 6-4.
Vets pulled its goalie for an extra skater and capitalized with 29 seconds left, on another goal by Fontaine. But they couldn’t get a shot to the net, even with the man advantage, in the final seconds.
“We wanted it to be a battle,” Tvenstrup said. “We used all of our personnel and that’s what this is about. This day is about giving them a good hockey game and that’s what we did. It was a good hockey game.”
The Pats were set to be back at Thayer Arena on Monday, for a game against South Kingstown. Results were unavailable at press time.
“We’ve got to do a lot of things differently in the second half of the season,” Tvenstrup said. “We’ve had trouble with leadership so far. We’ve got to have guys step up. It’s been frustrating. I don’t blame them. We’ve got a different situation than these guys are used to. We’re young in the net, we don’t have that backbone. When we give up a goal, we’ve got to stay the course.”
The ’Canes will try to build on the momentum earned from a solid showing against their rivals. They were also set to play Monday.
“Now we roll this over and go from there,” Boyajian said. “It’s a sharp learning curve. They’re learning on the fly. For the younger guys, it’s gaining that confidence. You’re starting to see now that they’re picking up that confidence. We’re halfway through the season so it’s a good time to start growing into that.”