Pilgrim turns to defense to lead the way
The last two seasons, the Pilgrim hockey team has been offensive-minded, in large part because it could be.
The Pats featured two of the top scorers in Division II with Nick McGuirl and Cody Weaver. McGuirl was tied for first in the division in points last year, while Weaver was seventh. The season before, McGuirl was tied for sixth, while Weaver was tied for ninth.
Pilgrim scored the second-most goals in D-II-North last year, en route to a semifinal appearance that ended with a loss to eventual champion Coventry.
With McGuirl and Weaver gone to graduation – as well as three other players – the times have changed, and first-year Pilgrim head coach Chad Tvenstrup is adapting to his personnel.
The Pats are going to be defensive-minded, through and through.
“We have a strong, experienced defense,” Tvenstrup said. “Three of the defensemen are returning players, and they’re sound players in the defensive zone. We’re going to really focus on that and get goals when we can. We have a couple of offensive weapons, but we’re going to be a three-goal team.”
Tvenstrup, who was a Pilgrim assistant last season, is taking over for Dave Tober, who brought the Pats to the semifinals last year and the quarterfinals the year before. Both teams were legitimate contenders, with the star talent to boot.
This group has talent; it’s just aligned more towards the defensive zone. The hope is that through hard work and toughness, some offensive ability will shine through as well.
“I’m focusing on garbage goals,” Tvenstrup said. “I’m focusing on crashing the net. I’m focusing on getting the second opportunities, because that’s how we’re going to win games. We’re not going to win games 6-0.”
Perhaps the Pats’ most important player is returning first-team all-division performer Dylan LeGarie.
LeGarie, a senior, earned those honors as a defenseman last year, but he’ll play more forward this year in an effort to provide an offensive spark.
He’ll serve as a captain, along with senior defenseman Corey Casale and junior defenseman Joe Paliotte.
Joining Casale and Paliotte – and sometimes LeGarie – in the back are freshman Nolan McCusker and junior Bryant Palermo. That group will make up the defensive rotation.
“We’re strong in the defensive zone,” Tvenstrup said. “That’s where we’re going to be strong. We have to be.”
Behind the defense is senior goaltender Devon Gamba, who saw time last year but played behind first-team all-division goalie Ian Giuttari for much of the season.
Still, Gamba has experience in big games – including the playoffs – and is poised to be an every-game player going forward. He had a 2.57 goals against average last season. Freshman Cam Murphy will serve as his back-up.
“He has some experience,” Tvenstrup said. “He’s going to be strong, keeping the puck out of the net for us.”
Up front, the Pats may not have any McGuirls or Weavers, but they still have some threats. LeGarie had 18 points from his defensive spot last year, including nine goals, and his total could shoot up this season.
Junior Ryan Oatley also had 18 points last year, with seven goals. He scored the game-winning goal in a shootout last season to beat Middletown in the quarterfinals and move the Pats into the semis.
Senior Taylor Stringfellow is back too, after he scored seven points last year. Junior Sam Adamo had nine points – but only one goal – last season, and Tvenstrup is expecting an increase in goals from him.
“I think Oatley is going to get some goals this year, I think LeGarie is going to get some goals this year, whether he’s a forward or a defenseman,” Tvenstrup said. “I think Adamo should step up and get some goals this year.”
Other forwards who should see some ice time are junior Denver Cherms and sophomore Matt Parente, as well as a group of three freshmen.
Sophomore Brett Casale will help too, but he’s currently out with an injury.
“I don’t care how the goals come this year,” Tvenstrup said. “I really don’t. I’m focused on just crashing the net and making things happen that way. If we get a couple pretty goals here and there, that’s great, but I’m expecting everyone to be in front of the net ready to go, take the hit and put the puck in.”
While the Pats had D-II title hopes each of the past two seasons, they aren’t quite ready to declare themselves contenders just yet this year.
But they at least expect to be in the mix.
“This year’s team, we’re going to compete,” Tvenstrup said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs. We want to get in to the playoffs, which is not an easy feat in Division II because there are so many teams. I think we’ve got the personnel to do that. Making the playoffs for us is not an unrealistic goal. Then, we’ll take it from there.”
The Pats’ regular season begins on December 7, when they play East Greenwich at 8 p.m. at Benny Mageria Memorial Rink.