pburke@ricentral.com

KINGSTON – With a new head coach, a young team, and a Division II runner-up season in the rearview, Coventry’s boys ice hockey team is off to an exciting start at 2-0 and looking for good things ahead.

The Oakers came back twice on Saturday night to win in overtime, 3-2, and spoil Division II rival South Kingstown’s season-opener at URI’s Boss Arena.  Jack Hannan broke a 2-2 tie just under a minute into the five-minute sudden-death period, getting the Oakers their second win in two nights.

“I was toward the net,” Hannan said of his second goal in the game.  “Someone passed it to my cousin.  My cousin took the pass, shot the puck.  I was standing right in the corner near the post, I just shot it and it went in.”

“This was a great win,” Hannan said.  “When it was 2-1, I was like we need to step it up.  We got that second goal then we put in a huge effort and got that third goal all together as a team.”

The overtime goal was Coventry’s first lead.  They came back from down 1-0 in the second period and from down 2-1 in the third.

The Rebels had the only goal of the first period.  Senior forward Mike Boynton scored with assists by junior Andy Sprague and sophomore Colin McNamara.  At 11:38 in the second, Coventry junior forward Eli Benjamin tied things on a nice cross up after an assist from junior defenseman A.J. Saccoccio.  Sprague made it 2-1 on a dish from sophomore Bennett Souza at 3:51.

Hannan scored the only goal of the third period, an unassisted power move to tie the game, 2-2.

“Last night [in the 4-0 win over Toll Gate],” Oaker head coach Paul Nadeau said.  “We were in control the whole game.  Which is obviously the optimal situation to be in.  But throughout the season there’s going to be times where you are going to have to come back in games.”

“Between the second and third,” Nadeau continued.  “We looked at it as just a test to see what we’re made off.  We needed to try and battle back in the third, and if we’re able to do that, it’s going to tell us a lot about ourselves.”

With 1:40 left in the game, Coventry looked to have put the go-ahead in the back of the net, but it was called back for a crease violation.  Regulation ended at 2-2.

Sprague nearly put in the first shot of overtime, but it was Hannan ending it on the other side with 4:03 left on the clock.

“I didn’t anticipate those goals coming back,” Nadeau said.  “I’m not saying whether they should have been goals or not. As a team, that’s kind of deflating when you think you score and it comes back. So, I was impressed that even in spite of that, happening that late in the game, that they were able to push it past themselves and go out there, crash the net and put that one home.”

Some penalty issues and early shakiness have been negatives that Nadeau pointed to in their two game start, but he also noted that two straight winning third periods is a positive trend for a team.

Nadeau is new to Coventry but not new to the league or to RI hockey.  He was the head coach at North Smithfield from 2007-16 then assisted on URI’s club team in 2016-17.

“Last year I chased my toddler around,” Nadeau said.  “And now I’m back in it.”

“It’s a lot of new faces to learn,” Nadeau continued.  “But one thing I can say is that coaching as long as I have, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Coventry; they’ve always had a consistently strong, hardworking, sportsmanlike program. Coach Ken Bird and [his coaches] can really be attributed to that; they had that kind of structure as coaches.”

“From that standpoint,” Nadeau said.  “It was not that hard of a transition, because the kids already expected a lot of themselves and of the program. But last year, with all the success they had, they were very senior heavy. A lot of the kids who are here now, they were on the bus but they weren’t driving it. This year they have that opportunity to step up, and they’re really excited to make their mark on the program.”

You can definitely learn some things while watching from on the bus, it’s now up to see if the Oakers figured out enough to take control and drive it.

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