The No. 3 Tolman hockey team played a perfect two periods for the second straight game in the Division III title series, but the Tigers couldn’t stop No. 1 West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich’s perfect season.
The Knight-Wizards, who steamrolled their way to title series, only led by a goal heading into the final period of Sunday’s game. But as has been the case many times during their fantastic run, the Knight-Wizards were simply too deep and too good for a Tolman team playing the last game in the program’s history.
West Warwick senior forward Antonio Rei, who was the leading scorer in the state this season, scored two goals for the second straight championship series game, while EWG senior forward Troy Sankey scored the Division III championship-winning goal 2:27 into the middle of the period to cap off the Knight-Wizards’ perfect
season with a 5-1 victory at Meehan Auditorium.
“This feels amazing,” Rei said after winning the series’ MVP honors with a team-high four goals. “If you asked me where I thought we’d be a few years ago, I’d probably say at the bottom. This just feels great.”
“This feels unreal to go from winning two, three, four games a season – the laughingstock of Division III – to finally being a team that’s worth something,” West Warwick senior defenseman Austin Barlow said. “We’ve shown we can play with other teams and do well. It feels amazing to be on the other end of the spectrum.”
“This is great. This is awesome,” WW/EWG coach Pete Ethier said. “It’s been 25 years and we brought the cup home. … This is a great group of kids both on and off the ice. They’re all really good kids. They put their minds to a few goals and worked real hard and they went out and accomplished it.”
Sunday’s championship is the first for West Warwick since the Wizards won the 1988 Suburban Division title. The title is the first for Exeter-West Greenwich, which joined the Wizards in a co-op three seasons ago.
The Tigers, who proved to be the only team in the division who could survive more than a period with the Knight-Wizards, finished up the season with a 13-6-1 record. The Tigers upset East Providence in the semifinals and led the title series for a few minutes in the first period. Senior forward Brandon Speight had the Tigers’ goal Sunday.
West Warwick/EWG’s game plan for the entire series was to make long, diagonal passes across the neutral zone to beat the Tolman defense. That’s how the No. 1 seed scored the game’s opener when senior Josh Marco played a perfect cross-ice pass to Rei. The senior skated the puck into the zone, forced Tolman goalie Jared DaSilva to commit to stopping a shot before finding Sankey for an open-net goal.
Sophomore goalie Ivan Forcier played superb hockey all series, but he gave up a juicy rebound later in the period after a shot by junior Edward Reall. Speight was on hand to finish the chance and even the game. Forcier would atone for the mistake by saving every shot the Tigers took for the rest of the game.
“I made some nice saves, but we played great as a team,” Forcier said. “We put some pucks in the net and won. When I see more shots I get in a rhythm and I know the team’s behind me. This is an unreal experience and I can’t wait to share it with my teammates.”
Just like in Saturday’s game, Sunday’s contest was tied after the first period and just like Saturday’s game the Knight-Wizards scored early in the second period to take a lead. Sankey finished up a chance setup by Marco and freshman defenseman Brett Coski.
Unlike Saturday’s game the Tigers didn’t respond with a goal of their own later in the period. Tolman had two power-play chances in the period, but Forcier and the stout WW/EWG defense wouldn’t let Jared Pedro and the Tolman forwards good chances to score.
As well as they were playing, the Knight-Wizards still only had a one-goal lead heading into the final period. The lead was doubled just 2:36 into the final period when EWG freshman forward Alex Ventura found EWG sophomore forward Anthony Ventura in the left circle. The elder Ventura snapped a wrist shot past DaSilva.
“Once that third goal went in I think everybody started feeling a little better now that we had a little bit of insurance,” Barlow said. “We weren’t going to stop. We were going to keep putting them in until that last buzzer. They say two goals is the worst lead in hockey, so we just wanted to keep putting them away.”
Tolman was forced to take some chances after Ventura’s first goal of the series and that meant more space in the cavernous neutral zone for Rei, Coski and Sankey.
Rei scored his first goal of the game at 11:38 after a nice feed from Coski and he added another goal with just 30 seconds left in the period. Sankey and Marco earned assists on the play.
“I feel like at the end we realized we wanted to end it now and not go to another game on Tuesday,” Rei said. “I was always thinking about the next opportunity and the next chance.”
Of the four hockey champions crowned over the weekend the Knight-Wizards were the only team to go undefeated and untied this season. Ethier said he is proud his team went 20-0.
“Twenty-and-0, that’s great,” Ethier said. “Now I can say ‘Ya, I love the undefeated season.’ I’m glad the guys accomplished it.”