On paper, the Toll Gate hockey team’s game with Lincoln on Friday looked like a mismatch, and the score ended up reflecting that.
But for two periods, the Titans hung tough with the first-place Lions, and were in position to spring the upset. As time wore on, though, Lincoln’s depth and skill was enough to get the job done, as three third-period goals paved the way for a 7-2 Lions’ win.
Toll Gate fell to 0-4 in Division II-South. Lincoln, which is down from Division I this season, is now 5-0 in D-II-North.
“They’re a deep team, they’re a skilled team,” Toll Gate head coach Mike Champagne said. “They’re coming down from D-I.”
The Titans, meanwhile, are a team still struggling to find their identity. They’re making strides, but haven’t been able to pick up a win amidst a tough early season schedule.
“Our guys are working towards it,” Champagne said.
On Friday, Toll Gate flashed signs that it can compete with some of the better teams around. It battled the Lions through a 0-0 first period in which Titans’ goaltender David Stachurski made 10 saves.
Other Lincoln shots sailed just wide of the net, but a strong defensive effort from Toll Gate kept things scoreless.
In the second period, the Lions took the lead early on. One minute and 38 seconds in, Mike Enos took a hard slap shot that Stachurski saved. Waiting in front, though, was Drew Wood, and he pushed the rebound in for a 1-0 advantage.
Barely over a minute later, Lincoln’s Griffin Hevey went behind the net and found Tyler Rego in front. Rego one-timed it into the goal for a quick 2-0 lead.
“They’re used to a pace,” Champagne said of Lincoln. “They’ve played Mount, they’ve played Hendricken. They’ve seen that speed. Now they come down, they continue that.”
Down two goals, the Titans started to come alive. On a power play moments later, Dylan Russo put the puck on net but it was saved by Lincoln’s David Jessey. Seconds after that, Steve Matthews hit a hard slap shot, but Jessey was there to save that, too.
Finally, with 5:30 to play in the period, Nolan O’Brien crossed the blue line and fired a shot that Jessey turned aside. Ryan Charette was waiting at the near post, and he forced it into the goal to cut the deficit in half.
“I think we are getting better, it just takes some time,” Champagne said.
Lincoln struck right back two minutes later, as Matt Carmichael took a shot and then got his own rebound, which he converted for a 3-1 lead.
Yet, the Titans weren’t finished. With 1:17 left in the second, Russo flipped the puck out from behind Lincoln’s net to Steve Matthews in front, who buried it past Jessey to make it a one-goal game again.
Toll Gate was primed to enter the third period down just a goal. But Lincoln wasn’t finished. Off the ensuing faceoff, the puck went to Ryan Krohto and he took off straight for the goal. He went top shelf, beating Stachurski for a backbreaking goal. It came just six seconds after Matthews’ goal, and it put Lincoln back in front by two goals entering the third.
“They scored right off the faceoff,” Champagne said. “It happened quick. It really changes things when they score like that. We’re tired, trying to get into the locker room and they put another one in.”
When the teams got back on the ice, Toll Gate held its own for a while, but Lincoln eventually took complete control. With 7:50 remaining in the game, Robert Lake slashed to the net and Wood scored on a rebound after Stachurski made the initial save.
Thirty-six seconds later, Griffin Hevey got a shorthanded breakaway opportunity, which Stachurski again saved, but Wood was there once more to push home the rebound. That made it 6-2, and ended any real hopes of a comeback.
Rego added the Lions’ seventh goal in the final minute of play.
“It didn’t feel like a 7-2 game out there, at least not to me,” Champagne said.
One significant bright spot for the Titans was Stachurski, who let in seven goals but did make 31 saves. Nearly all of Lincoln’s goals came on rebounds, too, as Stachurski kept Toll Gate close most of the way.
“David played great,” Champagne said. “He might not be the quickest or have the perfect technique, but he works hard and plays with an edge. That more than makes up for it.”
Toll Gate has also scored five goals now in its last two games after being shutout in its first two.
It shows that the team is playing better. Now, it’s hoping to turn that into a few wins.
The Titans have two games this weekend to try to get their first victory. On Friday, they play against East Greenwich at 6 p.m. at Benny Mageria Rink. On Saturday, they play South Kingstown, also at 6 p.m. at Benny Mageria.