PROVIDENCE — Coventry junior three-sport athlete Alex Zannella is a winner.
No, Zannella isn’t a winner in the clichéd, metaphorical sense of the term. The Oaker is a winner because he’s a talented athlete, who works hard and frequently finds himself playing with like-minded players.
Whether it be on the baseball diamond, the football field or the hockey ice, Zannella’s teams have usually been successful and he is usually one of the big reasons for that success.
Saturday afternoon at Schneider Arena, Zannella and the Coventry hockey team won the Division II title by beating Portsmouth 4-2 to clinch the series 2-0. It was the first title victory of Zannella’s high-school career, but it’s not his first scholastic athletic title.
When Zannella was an eighth-grader at Feinstein Middle School, the school’s baseball team beat Lincoln 1-0 in June of 2008 to claim the RIPCOA state title. While Zannella wasn’t the star of the that team – current Hendricken standout Richard Bacon was the leader of the team - Zannella was a key cog playing second base and hitting at the top of the order.
“Playing baseball, playing football, playing hockey, it’s all the same,” Zannella said. “You’re always looking to win a state championship. That one in eighth grade was special and it was a special group of guys. We have a special group of guys here who play collectively as a group.
“Compared to the one at McCarthy (Stadium) this is one may be a little bit higher because it’s higher stakes and a lot more people are watching. But it’s very, very similar.”
Zannella, who was a defensive back on the Oakers’ 2010 Division II-B football title team that went all the way to the Division II semifinals, was Coventry’s top scoring defenseman while at the same time covering the other team’s most dangerous attackers.
In the state championship series Zannella’s job was to slow down Portsmouth’s fastest forwards, Matt Abraham and Aaron Towers. But that’s nothing new for a player who, as a freshman, was forced to compete against some of the best forwards in the state like Ponaganset’s Derek Rogala and Smithfield’s Colby Fugere.
“It’s very tough,” Zannella said about facing every team’s top guns. “I remember freshman year playing Ponaganset and they had Rogala and all those guys. I kind of take it as a personal challenge to go up against those guys. I like going up against those guys because they’re unpredictable, they don’t always do the same thing.”
The junior, who scored 21 points this season and committed just six penalties, teamed with sophomore Matt Tanksley to slow down Abraham and Towers during the series. Neither forward had a sniff at net during the first two periods, but Abraham did score a goal early in the third after a Coventry defensive error.
Zannella doesn’t have much time to enjoy the fruits of his labor because starting Monday he will trade his skates for a pair of cleats and a glove. Zannella is the starting second baseman for the Coventry baseball team, a role he’s had since his freshman season.
Coventry hasn’t had much success on the baseball field in the last two seasons, going just 9-27 in Division I-West. But, with the nucleus of that 2008 Feinstein title team now playing a big part on Coach Leo Bush’s squad, the Oakers could make some noise in Division I-South.
Senior goalie Spencer Patti suffered along with his teammates when they lost to Cumberland in the semifinals last season. The difference between Patti and the rest of the Oakers is that he didn’t play because then-senior Mitchell Beck started between the pipes in both playoff games.
Patti finally got his chance to start a playoff game this season and he made the most of it. The senior netminder went 6-0 in the playoffs with a goals against average of just 1.5 after allowing just nine goals in six playoff games. The senior picked up one shutout and never allowed more than two goals in any playoff game.
“Big-game situations helped me get focused,” Patti said. “I use that.”
Seniors Nick Paiva, Patti, Connor Forsythe and Zach Faria along with juniors Zannella, Conner DiPetro, Zach Levesque and Peter Stringfellow were the biggest reasons the Oakers won their first Division II title since 2003.
But Coventry wouldn’t have won the title if a bunch of sophomores hadn’t grown up so quickly.
“We have nine sophomores on this team that have been working out since September and also playing in their leagues,” Coventry coach Ken Bird said. “That paid big benefits out on the ice. … I think the strength of our team was our depth. We play a lot of people and having nine sophomores out their playing making a major contribution to a state championship.
“They’re all ahead of schedule as athletes. Usually it’s the juniors that hit the ice all the time, but we also have all those kids hitting the ice and that gives us our depth.”
Brian Skorski was the most visible sophomore in Saturday’s title game. The forward scored the first goal of the game and he assisted on Paiva’s second goal early in the third period when his pass allowed the senior to skate in on a breakaway.
But there were plenty of other sophomores who played big roles in the title run. Corey Rogers scored eight points in the playoffs, while sophomore defenseman Zach Cooney played a perfect pass to Paiva for the game-winning goal early in the second period.
Tanksley teamed with Zannella to form a formidable defensive partnership, while Zach Allen, Jacob Harrington, Michael Pesola and Joseph Stringfellow were major contributors to a team that scored 109 goals in 24 Division II games this season.
“Last year we only ran really two strong lines and the third line was kind of weak,” Forsythe said. “This year, I had two sophomores on my line and then the next line was all sophomores and they’re like our energy line.”
By the numbers
Coventry played 277 minutes and 13 seconds of playoff hockey and they trailed for just 3:50. The Oakers were ahead during the playoffs for 132:06. Their toughest series was against Prout; Coventry led for just 16:52 of the semifinal series and trailed for 3:52. The Oakers dominated Portsmouth, leading 48:37 of the 90-minute series. … While Patti saved 129 of the 138 shots he saw in the playoffs, Patti’s opposition in net managed to stop just 148 of the 168 Oaker shots. … Sixteen Oakers scored at least a point during the six-game playoff run. Pesola, who had a breakout playoff-performance, scored four goals and four assists, while DiPetro led the team with five goals and also had eight points. Paiva, the tournament MVP, had four goals and three assists. Forsythe (three goals, one assist), Rogers (one goal, three assists) and Levesque (four assists) all had four points. Tanksley, Cooney, Stringfellow and Skorski all had two points. Faria, Zannella, Allen, Harrington, Seamus Fennelly and Patti each registered a point.