For 38 minutes Tolman goalie Jared DaSilva and the rest of the No. 3 Tigers found a way to frustrate the state’s leading scorer, West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich senior forward Antonio Rei, in Game One of the Division III championship series at Meehan Auditorium Saturday afternoon.
The Knight-Wizard failed to register a point for the first two and a half periods as the undefeated No. 1 seed found itself in a tie game with the plucky
upstarts from Pawtucket.
And just when it seemed WW/EWG was in trouble, Rei came to the rescue. With the Knight-Wizards on the power play Rei picked up the puck in his own zone, skated the length of the ice, cut inside off the left circle and buried a shot past DaSilva with 7:43 left in the contest. Rei added two more points later in the period to lift the Knight-Wizards to a 5-2 opening-game win.
“Our whole team was pretty much spread out and the rink at Brown is a lot wider ice surface, so it creates a lot more opportunities to skate the puck,” Rei said. “It also helps to look for people who are floating. I just put all the frustration behind me because this is the championship and just focus on the goal at hand, which is winning this.”
“He came around the net and they left a lot of space in the neutral zone and he decided to use it,” WW/EWG coach Pete Ethier said. “He had one guy to beat and he made a nice move.”
Ethier said all week he expected a tough series with the Tigers, who will be discontinuing their program after this season because of a lack of numbers. And a tough opening game is what the Knight-Wizards had because the Tigers scored the opening goal just 1:55 into the first period and sent the contest into the third period tied at two when Ryan Deignan redirected a shot past Ivan Forcier.
But just as they did in their first victory over Tolman earlier in the season, the Knight-Wizards simply wore down the Tigers in the third period. After Rei scored, West Warwick senior Josh Marco scored a breakaway goal with 3:02 left in the contest and Rei added an empty-net tally to finish the scoring.
“This is not going to be an easy series,” Ethier said. “I think they got a little tired as the game went and we were able to keep pressure on them. I told you all week this is going to be a tough series. They’re coming out to play. This is their last season as a hockey team. Their kids are running on adrenaline and my kids are running on adrenaline. It ain’t over yet.”
“We knew it was going to be tough, but we have to come out a lot harder tomorrow,” Sankey said. “We came out kind of flat in the first two periods and took it to them in the third period. We need to make them know that we want it more than they do.”
The No. 3 Tigers, who are the only team to take the Knight-Wizards to overtime this season, surprised the top seed with a goal just 1:55 into the contest. Senior Brandon Speight had his shot stopped by Forcier, but Edward Reill was positioned perfectly to gobble up the rebound and score the opening goal.
Tolman nearly made it to the end of the opening period with the lead, but the Knight-Wizards finally found a way by DaSilva, who had 35 saves. Freshman Brett Coski made a perfect pass across the ice to Troy Sankey, who scored from close range.
The Knights grabbed the lead in the second period on a Dean Brown goal, but the Tigers tied it controversially with 2:20 left in the period when Deighan redirected a Ryan Pedro slap shot past Forcier. Ethier felt Deighan’s stick was well above the crossbar when he made contact with the puck, which is illegal.
“It was, it absolutely was,” Ethier said of the high stick. “It was a foot and a half above the net. I saw it when it got hit, but I told the ref after the second ‘That’s all right. My boys are coming out and they’re going to play. I’m not worried about that second goal.’”
The Knight-Wizards scored three power-play goals to win the opening game of the series, including Rei’s solo effort midway through the third period.
WW/EWG also scored a goal four-on-four when Rei scooped a puck out of his zone right to Marco, who was floating in the neutral zone. Marco, who just seconds earlier wasted a breakaway by making an ill-advised pass to Rei, put a shot past DaSilva to finish off the game.
Rei scored an empty-net goal on the power play with 51 seconds left in the game. Coski and Marco earned assists on the score.
“I really didn’t expect it to be this close,” Rei said, “but we put our heads to it and got the job done.”