There were plenty of players West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich co-op hockey coach Peter Ethier could’ve given the game puck to following the Knight-Wizards’ Division III title clinching victory over Tolman Sunday afternoon.
Senior forward Antonio Rei, who scored a series-high four goals, was named the series’ MVP, while EWG senior forward Troy Sankey scored three goals. Freshman Brett Coski was also another viable candidate, but Ethier knew the championship was won on the penalty kill, so he gave the game puck to EWG senior defender Justin Lake.
“Our coach commended us on our defense and he gave the game puck to one of the defensemen, Justin Lake,” senior defenseman Austin Barlow said. “Sometimes the defense does get overshadowed by the offense, but it’s team effort through and through from the goalie to the offense.”
“I made some nice saves and we played great team defense,” sophomore goalie Ivan Forcier said after allowing just three goals – none in the third period – during the two-game series. “I love seeing more shots because it gets me in a rhythm and I start feeling it. The team was behind me, so I feel good.”
Because the Knight-Wizards racked up 10 goals in the two-game series it would be easy to give credit to Rei, Sankey and the forwards, but the reality was the Knight-Wizards would be preparing for a winner-take-all Game Three Tuesday night at Meehan Auditorium if not for their fantastic penalty kill.
Ethier came into the series lauding his team’s composure, but the Knight-Wizards committed a number of needless penalties over the weekend and even gave the No. 3 Tigers two extended five-on-threes. The Tigers didn’t score a power-play goal Saturday and they went 0-for-6 on the power play Sunday.
West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich, on the other hand, scored four power-play goals in as many opportunities.
“We had a problem with some penalties today,” Ethier said. “We had some dumb penalties. Our penalty kill was great. That’s when the guys dig down deep. That’s all that practice that we do. That’s when it comes into effect. It seems hard to practice for that stuff, but the kids paid attention and did their jobs.”
The biggest moment in Saturday’s 5-2 win came in the second period after Dean Brown scored to put the No. 1 seed ahead by a goal. WW/EWG followed up the goal by committing two penalties in quick succession to give the Tigers an extended 5-on-3. WW/EWG killed off the two-man advantage by forcing a penalty on the Tigers.
Penalties weren’t a big problem Saturday, but they certainly were for most of the first two periods in Game Two. Brown picked up three penalties in the first 13 minutes of the game and he was joined in the box by Rei late in the first period when the state’s leading scorer was called for hooking near his own blue line.
“It was rough being in the box, but I knew my team was going to be there to help get the job done and get the penalty over with,” Rei said.
Rei is usually one of the Knight-Wizards top penalty killers because he’s fast enough to make up for a one-man disadvantage. With the senior in the box, Forcier was forced to make a bunch of important saves to keep the game tied after one period.
The sophomore, who allowed just 13 goals during the regular season, stoned Jared Pedro and Edward Reall on a number of occasions to keep his team tied until Sankey scored a power-play goal early in the second period to put the Knight-Wizards ahead for good.
“Killing penalties is hard work,” Sankey said. “It’s skating. It’s playing your position. It’s executing when you’re on the ice. We did what we we’re supposed to do and it worked out for us.”
The Tigers had two more power-play opportunities in the second period, but the Knights, again, killed off both penalties to hold on to its slim, one-goal advantage.
The Knight-Wizards’ ability to kill off penalties shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. During the regular season they scored more short-handed goals (6) than allowed power-play goals (4) and killed off 94.23 percent of power plays. Tolman came into the series converting 19.67 percent of its power-play chances.
Ethier told his team to clean it up in the third period and that’s what they did. The Knight-Wizards only committed one penalty in the period and it was a matching penalty. Because they kept five players on the ice for the whole period the Knight-Wizards simply wore down the Tigers.