In its final game before Christmas, the Toll Gate hockey team inched toward the right direction in a 3-0 loss to South Kingstown. Friday night, in its first game after the holiday, the Titans gave up a goal to North Kingstown just 37 seconds in. It was the start of a rough weekend and a slide back in the wrong direction. Toll Gate lost 8-1 to the Skippers and also lost to Middletown 4-2 on Saturday to fall to 0-5 in Division II.
“Thirty-seven seconds in,” head coach Mike Champagne said of the goal that started the Titans on the wrong foot. “We spoke a lot about playing the body and getting pucks out. We one-man the puck along the boards, don’t take a body and one of the better players in the division walks out of the corner and makes his bread-and-butter play.”
Senior Pat Limoges delivered the early tally for the Skippers. They added another goal just two minutes later and already had a 4-0 cushion by the end of the first period. The win ran their record to 4-1.
Toll Gate had played the Skippers in the second game of the season and lost 4-1. This was a different story.
“Honestly the first time, we didn’t have our skating legs but I thought we played okay,” Champagne said. “Tonight, it was even more of the same. We came out extremely flat and it snowballed from there. I don’t think we were prepared to play. North Kingstown came out hard and they took it to us.”
The Titans struggled to possess the puck in their offensive zone, often getting it to that end only when they dumped it in from the neutral zone. Senior goalie David Stachurski made some saves to keep the score from getting even worse, but it was an uphill battle.
“I think a big part of it is in our own end, we’re struggling,” Champagne said. “It’s such a fight to get out and make a play that we run out of gas. We start losing the confidence, then we start throwing the puck away. You see little flashes of getting the puck out and cycling, making things happen, but we’re just not doing it consistently.”
The Titans are fielding a lineup that has just a handful of returning players. Their rotation Friday included four freshmen and four sophomores.
As expected, consistency has been elusive.
“It’s part of a young team,” Champagne said. “It’s Jekyll and Hyde with some of the guys. We think we’ve turned the corner, we’ve got some confidence and then we revert back. It’s two steps forward and two steps back – it’s not even one step.”
The Titans thought they had a building block game against South Kingstown, but it didn’t carry over against the Skippers.
“We lost 3-0,” Champagne said. “We played far more physical and we had our skating game. The score didn’t show it and the shots on goal didn’t show it, but we had much more possession, much more time in their end, a lot of great pressure on the back-check. We definitely see that it can happen. It didn’t happen tonight.”
Toll Gate limited North Kingstown to two goals in the second period but allowed an early one in the third. The Titans finally got on the board with 1:30 left when Stephen Octeau knocked in a shot from the goal line.
That was part of a late push that saw the Titans finally control the puck and settle in. They’re hoping for more of that.
“I think once we start doing it, we’ll get the confidence to keep doing it and keep playing that way,” Champagne said. “It’s just a matter of stringing a few shifts together, and then a period. Then we’ll understand. It’s tough to say ‘That’s it, that’s what we’re looking for’ when it hasn’t happened. We need it to happen and then we can really point to it.”
The Titans hope the closer loss to Middletown on Saturday was a step forward, and they’ll get a shot to break out – plus a dose of intensity – when they take on rival Pilgrim on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Thayer Arena.