Warwick Beacon photo by Kevin Pomeroy
Captains Justin Finan (left) and Nick Bodziony join head coach Jim Creamer in accepting the state championship trophy Monday night.
When Bishop Hendricken won its first state hockey championship in 2006, it felt like a coronation. The Hawks were experienced and immensely talented. They averaged more than seven goals per game that year and out-scored their opponents by almost 100 goals. Their challengers were young and inexperienced, a few steps behind. The undefeated Hawks rolled to a championship series sweep.
The next year, Hendricken went undefeated again, took a punch from another young Mount St. Charles team in the championship series, but won the next two games to bring home a second consecutive title.
Now, five years later, the roles were a little different. Hendricken was the top team all year, but Mount and La Salle nipped at their heels. If the Hawks were the favorite, the gap wasn’t very big.
They won anyway, shining on the biggest stage in a 5-2 game three victory Monday night. On the ice after the game, I wondered if the different roles made this championship more special, more hard-earned.
Head coach Jim Creamer wasn’t buying.
“I think they’re all special in a different way,” he said. “This one is just satisfying to see this group of kids have success. I’m just proud of them.”
He should be, and I can see why he wasn’t buying.
No matter what – records, statistics, experience, identities, favorites, predictions – no matter what, beating Mount St. Charles for a Rhode Island High School hockey state championship is one heck of a special achievement.
Really, it’s as good as it gets.
The Mounties are the only high school team I’ve ever seen with a mystique. There are plenty of strong programs in Rhode Island and around the country, programs that hang championship banners by the dozen, but outside of the Texas football teams that captivate whole towns, you don’t see that much magic anymore when it comes to high school sports.
Mount breaks the mold. Coach Bill Belisle is an icon, his methods legendary. Walking into Adelard Arena is like stepping back in time. You can almost hear the echoes. Even Mount’s letterman’s jackets have that mystique, even their blue school bus.
And then there are the championships. Forty-two of them, including the amazing 26-year streak. There had been four more in a row before this year.
When you play Mount St. Charles for a championship, it’s hard to just line up and skate.
You’re playing against that mystique, too.
Being up to the task is what makes it so amazing. It’s why Toll Gate’s 2004 championship – the one that ended the streak – goes down as one of the great stories in Rhode Island sports history. And it’s why a championship win over Mount, regardless of the situation, is so special.
For years, Mount always found a way, and you could envision them doing the same thing this year. From the moment last season ended and a young Hendricken team skated off the ice at Schneider Arena, you knew the Hawks would be back and would probably be the favorite.
But you could just imagine the magic. The Mounties scuffled out of the gates this season, starting the year 3-4, but they steadily improved. They split four regular-season meetings with the Hawks. In the semifinals, they won two double-overtime games to beat La Salle.
Hendricken waited, then cleared the first hurdle with a 4-3 overtime victory in game one of the championship series. When Mount came back to win game two, though, you could almost feel it. Maybe something was brewing again.
The Hawks were having none of it. They came out flying in game three, and though they had to take some punches, they maintained control throughout. There was no hint of magic. The mystique was buried under solid, steady hockey. The Hawks dominated the third period and celebrated a championship.
When it was over and the Hawks were receiving their medals, each won skated to the Mount bench to shake hands with Belisle. He smiled and offered sincere congratulations to every one of them. No one knows what it’s like to win a championship more than he does.
And now these Hawks know what it’s like to win one – and to do it against the Mount. The streak may have ended a few years ago, but the Mounties have still won 30 of the last 35 championships. Beating them is still exceedingly rare.
On Wednesday morning, two days after the championship, I had a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t take him for a huge sports fan, but my doctor’s a Hendricken grad and he wanted to know right off the bat if I had covered the hockey championship.
“It’s not very often that we beat the Mount,” he said with a smile.
I guess everybody knows that.
That’s why it’s so special.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and email@example.com.