Toll Gate ends season on a high note
An eight-game losing streak knocked the Toll Gate hockey team out of the playoff race, but it didn't keep the Titans from finishing their season with a flourish.
The Titans snapped that skid two weeks ago with their best game of the season, a 4-0 victory over second-place Cumberland, and they finished off the year on Friday with a 5-2 victory over Ponaganset on senior night.
The Titans ended the campaign with a 6-11-1 league record.
"Good finish," said head coach Bill Russo. "We hit a real rough spot from mid-January to mid-February. We had a real tough go of it for various reasons – discipline issues, some injuries. Being that we're out of the playoff picture, I'm been really proud of the way the guys came together to finish out the season. It would have been easy for some of these guys to just pack it in. But we played our best game of the season against Cumberland last weekend and we came out and got a good win tonight."
Ponaganset came into Friday's game with just one victory to its name, and in the early going, it looked like the kind of mismatch the teams' records would indicate. Just over two minutes into the game, Michael Palumbo got loose in front, took a pass from the left and buried a shot for the 1-0 lead. Casey Correia and Kevin Vittum assisted.
Four minutes after that, the Titans struck again, as Danny Holmes skated down the left side and ripped a shot for an unassisted power play goal.
But soon enough, the Titans realized they wouldn't be able to cruise.
With 3:30 left in the first period, Toll Gate made a push despite being short-handed then didn't get back. Ponaganset's Nick Saccoccio got loose as a result and put a shot on net from the right wing. Toll Gate goalie Josh Giarrantano made the initial save, but Saccoccio swept in the rebound to make it 2-1.
Less than a minute later, the Chieftains tied the game on another breakaway goal, this one by Michael Giorgio.
"We knew it would be a tough game," Russo said. "Throw their record out the window. They're a hard-battling team. We knew this wasn't going to be an easy game, so I'm proud of the way we played."
And proud of the way the Titans came back.
After taking an early penalty in the third period, the Titans settled in and broke the tie with 7:44 left on a goal by Dylan Russo. He skated in from the left and with a defender draped on him, Russo pushed in a backhanded shot. Steve Matthews had the assist.
Just before the end of the period, the Titans added to their lead as Matthews rifled in a shot from way out on the right side. Correia assisted.
The Titans went to the locker room with a 4-2 lead – and then set out to protect it.
"That was our theme in between the second and third period," Bill Russo said. "We knew what happened the last time we had a two-goal lead. It evaporated, so we were determined not to let it happen again."
They didn't. With 10:42 left, Alex Welch took a pass from Vittum on the left post and stuffed the puck into the net to make it 5-2. Ponaganset didn't threaten much from there, and the Titans had themselves a second straight victory.
It didn't completely erase the sting of the losing streak that came before, but it was at least a solid finish. And the Titans also sent their seniors – Correia, Giarrantano, Brandon Golda, Holmes and Vittum – out in style.
"We fell short of our goal of making the playoffs," Russo said. "You look back, and there's easily two or three games that were the difference-makers. We came out on the short end of a couple of those games, but I'm proud of the way we finished off the year."