For the first time this season, things finally started to click for the Toll Gate hockey team Friday night – when it was too late.
But it wasn’t too late for Saturday.
After scoring three goals in the final four minutes of a 4-3 loss to Mt. Hope on Friday, the Titans came out with the same pace and effort Saturday against Johnston/North Providence in Smithfield and steam-rolled to a 6-1 victory, their first of the season.
“Last night, it was a game that was there for the taking,” Toll Gate head coach Mike Champagne said. “We’re down 4-0 and we’re kind of hanging our heads. But we knew we could play that game – it just took us way too long. Tonight, we finally realized ‘We can go compete. Let’s do it on time.’ A lot of things we’ve been hoping to see all year, we finally saw tonight.”
Both Toll Gate and JNP are now 1-7. The Titans had been hoping for a big weekend, with a chance to get their footing against comparable teams. In the month of December, Toll Gate played five games, all against teams with winning records. After a 3-1 loss to Pilgrim last weekend, the Titans square off with 2-6 Mt. Hope and fell into the same trap. The late surge wasn’t enough.
But for the purposes of Saturday’s game, it was a major step.
“I think as a coach, you’re happy with a stretch like that, but it almost upsets you more – it’s like where was this?” Champagne said. “When it finally showed up, I think they realized that they missed an opportunity. And they said to themselves, ‘We can’t do that.’”
Just 2:15 into Saturday’s game, the Titans scored on the scramble after a rebound for the 1-0 lead. A little over two minutes after that, Jack Sullivan slipped a pass from behind the net to Sean Vittum in the slot, and he slammed it home for the 2-0 cushion.
“Tonight, they came out, put in a goal early, got some confidence and got right back at it,” Champagne said. “Tonight was a complete game. They put in the effort. They earned it.”
JNP, which had picked up its first victory last weekend, didn’t go quietly. With 8:09 left in the first period, Sam DaCosta took advantage of a turnover in the Titans’ zone and slipped a wrist shot past goalie David Stachurski to make it 2-1.
It was a dangerous spot for the Titans, who have been prone to momentum swings all season. This time, though, momentum was all theirs. Less than four minutes after the JNP goal, Vittum and Sullivan got loose on a 2-on-1 and executed it perfectly, with Vittum slipping a pass from the right to Sullivan on the left. He beat goalie Andrew Costa-Curtis easily to put the Titans back up by two.
“I think that was huge,” Champagne said. “The goal was important – and more important was the style of play. You could see we were coming back from that. Any time it’s within 1 or 3-1, that’s still tough. That’s a bad bounce away from being a tight game. It was really nice to get that next goal and to change the tide a little bit.”
The Titans picked up a penalty with 7:32 left in the second period but killed it off. Twenty seconds after the power play ended, JNP’s Justin Harvey got loose in front, but Stachurski made a pad save to keep the 3-1 lead.
Late in the second period, the Titans surged again. Vittum knocked in a bouncing puck with 3:26 left and Connor Sullivan scored on an odd-man rush with Daniel Mowry to make it 5-1.
The Titans got another goal from Vittum early in the third period and coasted to the 6-1 win.
“It was really important to build on the last four minutes of that game yesterday,” Vittum said. “We did. We came out with the win.”
Now the Titans need to keep the momentum alive. They have a weekend off from league play but will take the ice Sunday to face Narragansett at 3:10 p.m. in the Andrew J. Gauthier Hockey Festival. They return to league play Jan. 24. “
We’ve got to keep pushing at practice – four good days of practice,” Champagne said. “We’ll get a good opportunity against Narragansett in the Gauthier festival. Then go into the weekend following, hopefully riding that confidence. Now they hopefully connect what we do in practice with what happens in games. We see what happened tonight. You want the example to say ‘This is what you need to do.’ We finally have it.”