The Rhode Island Interscholastic League Division I hockey season is also underway along with basketball. Division I hockey is always one of the most competitive fields in the whole sports season, but …
The Rhode Island Interscholastic League Division I hockey season is also underway along with basketball. Division I hockey is always one of the most competitive fields in the whole sports season, but I have a feeling that we are in for one of the best seasons we’ve had in recent memory.
There has been plenty of news, plenty of movement in the offseason leading up to puck drop. Here are a few thoughts on what we can expect this season:
Well, Pilgrim hockey is back to being Pilgrim hockey.
With over 30 skaters on its roster, the Pats were able to field a team on its own as the co-op with neighbor Toll Gate was disbanded, with the Titans on the roster heading over to East Greenwich.
The writing was on the wall even before last season ended. The numbers for Pilgrim were on the rise, and many within the program expected last year to be the final go-around with the co-op after three campaigns.
Although Pilgrim has enough numbers to put together a varsity and JV program, and the Titans found a new dance partner, I am disappointed to see the end of the Militia.
The co-op’s emergence as a Division I power was one of the best stories of last winter, with the Militia reaching the semifinals and nearly winning it. It also picked up a historic win over Bishop Hendricken in the regular season and really proved to be an elite team.
Sure, the Pats will have plenty of returners including All-State goalie Braxton Bragg to be in the playoff mix, but I am not a fan of the co-op rule which is that each participating team needs to have fewer than 15 players. For a tough, physical sport like hockey, you need to have a strong JV and varsity program, and keeping Toll Gate’s kids on board would not have been too many to manage. The Warwick co-op would have had enough numbers to boast a strong feeder system while not having too many kids to sort through.
Public schools will always be at a disadvantage against private schools, club teams and prep schools. Although Pilgrim’s numbers are currently on an upswing, odds are in a few years they will be back on a downswing. Considering the numbers for public schools fluctuate regularly, why not encourage long-term co-ops, such as Pilgrim and Toll Gate, instead of bouncing schools around every other year? The odds of a two-school co-op having too many kids are low, especially in a sport like hockey.
Having griped about all of that, let me start with the Pats, who I believe will be one of the best teams in the state once again.
Bragg is back in net, while Ryan Barlow will remain one of the best two-way players in the state. They have big-game experience and are upperclassmen hungry to get it done, especially after falling short in lacrosse. Pilgrim will be good, if not great. The Pats were the best teams in Division II for years prior to teaming up with the Titans, so now is their shot to prove that they really are all that … which I believe they are.
Cooper Grossguth and the Titans will now join the Avengers, whose numbers have dropped quite a bit over the past two seasons. This will be interesting partnership, as the Avengers were in the title series two seasons ago and Toll Gate’s players being as talented as they are.
As for the defending champs, it will be hard to knock them off. Hendricken returns so much of last season’s team, including Griffin Crain and Jack LaRose. Although the field will be as tough as ever, Hendricken is the favorite and should be.
Mount St. Charles, for its standards, had a down year last year, but its numbers are through the roof and Mounties are hungry to make a comeback.
The school recently announced that it would be transferring to NEPSAC next season, which was also very disappointing to hear. The school’s explanation was that NEPSAC offered a higher level of competition than the RIIL, which is true, so I do understand its thinking. At the end of the day though, the RIIL is losing its most historic hockey program.
Which makes me wonder … does this motivate the Mounties? Does this make them even hungrier to hoist one last championship before leaving the league that it has dominated for the past 40 years? It would make sense.
I am excited to catch a few Mount games this winter. Although the Pats, Titans and Hawks are our home teams, a Mount state title would be one hell of a story.
One last team that I have heard multiple coaches mention is Prout. Prout flew under the radar las t season and was actually a dangerous team on the back end. La Salle is La Salle, the Rams will be right in the thick of things too.
This year’s Division I field is absolutely loaded.
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