Let’s cut to the chase: Spartan blue and white looks awfully strange on Jared Pedro, Teddy Reall, and Kris Wallace.
And it should, because after all, the three Tolman High senior forwards were mainstays on their school’s hockey team for the past three seasons, helping the Tigers total 31 regular-season wins during that time and reach the Division III finals last March.
But when eight of the 13 members from that team graduated, and for the third straight year, no underclassmen came out for the team, the program quietly folded.
That left five soon-to-be-seniors on the outside looking in, and when two decided that the Tigers’ final run was going to be their last skate as well, only Pedro, Reall, and Wallace remained.
In late January, they appeared before the RIIL’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics and expressed their desire to play hockey in their final year of high school.
But it wasn’t until the PCOA’s meeting in mid-June that, yes, they were going to unanimously get the green light to join a one-year co-op team.
But who would they join? Was it going to be East Providence, Tolman’s longtime Division III rival, which was a little over five miles away? Or how about Lincoln, the next closest school, which may have been in Division II, but also called Lynch Arena its home and was losing seven seniors to graduation?
The answer was -- neither.
It was Scituate.
Yes, that’s right, Scituate. A school 17 1/2 miles (and a half-hour drive) away on “the other side” of the state.
Scituate. A team that was 2-14 last year and hadn’t had a winning season since the 2007-08 season. A team that dressed only 11 players on a good night. A team that Pedro, Reall, and Wallace helped Tolman beat eight times during their three years as Tigers, with six of those wins coming by four or more goals.
But all that didn’t matter. Pedro, Reall, and Wallace were going to be allowed to finish their high school careers as Spartans.
And that was perfectly fine with them.
“I was happy that we were going to be able to play and skate our senior year,” said Pedro. “We got the privilege to play, so we were excited.”
“We were just happy to be playing somewhere,” added Reall. “Anywhere was good.”
After five games, everything has indeed been good for the three seniors and their aptly-named Scituate/Tolman co-op team. The squad is 2-3, with two of the losses coming to “the teams to beat” in the division, Narragansett and the defending champion West Warwick/Exeter-West Greenwich co-op team.
And the team, which scored just 31 goals last season, has more than half that total already with 17, eight of them coming from its Pawtucket connection.
“They’re three good players,” said veteran Scituate coach Bill Bryant. “They’re certainly a kick in the talent department and a kick in our depth, and it’s allowed us to be competitive.”
While the Spartans have been competitive, sitting in fourth place in the seven-team league -- a half game behind third-place East Providence (2-2), they’ve also had one of their deepest teams in a number of seasons and are currently carrying 19 bodies on their roster.
When Bryant got word last spring that there was a chance that Pedro, Reall, and Wallace were going to join his team, adding some much-needed depth to a team that was returning just nine players was the first thing that came to his mind.
“My principal (Michael Sollitto) sits on the Principals’ Committee, and when he left the meeting, he called me on his cell phone and said, ‘We’re probably the only school these kids can come to, because of the parameters that are set for doing co-ops,” recalled Bryant. “He asked me if I was interested and I said, ‘Yes. No. 1, I’m interested because I want the kids to be able to finish their high school careers, and No. 2, I’m interested because I needed more hockey players!’”
While Pedro (No. 19), Reall (11), and Wallace (22) are sporting the same uniform numbers that they wore as Tigers, that’s been the only similarity between their last three seasons and this winter with the Spartans.
Instead of taking a short stroll up Exchange Street for afternoon practices and home games at Lynch Arena, they have had to carpool to Smithfield’s arena for practices and Scituate High for Wednesday afternoon off-ice workouts and to hop on the bus with their teammates for weekend games.
And of course, settling in with a group of new teammates was another adjustment, but Bryant noted that it was a very smooth one.
“It’s hockey,” said Bryant. “The adjustment was easy, because they’re young kids and they’re hockey players, and they automatically had something in common. There was really no adjustment time. They just fit right in and we moved forward from there.”
‘We did a summer program with them,” added Pedro. “I was only able to come to one practice, but Teddy and Wallace did a few. We got to know the other players well and we’re starting to bond a lot better with them.”
Another adjustment for Pedro and Reall was their positions on the ice. While Wallace is back as a wing, Pedro and Reall, who were forwards throughout their high school careers, are back on defense.
To some, their moves to the blueline came as a shock, especially since Pedro was coming off his second straight year with 30-plus goals (and entered this season with 79 goals in his fabulous career) and Reall was the Tigers’ third leading point-scorer last season, but Bryant saw a better way to use two of his top players.
“In the system of hockey that I like to play, my best skaters are my defensemen,” said Bryant. “We’re generally skating three defensemen this year, [junior assistant captain] Lucas Mancinelli, Teddy, and Jared. They’re my best three skaters, and I want to put them in the best place that’s going to benefit the team.”
But the switch hasn’t stopped them from getting their names on the stat sheet. Pedro currently has five goals and two assists, putting him second on the team in scoring behind freshman standout Matthew Besser (7 goals, 4 assists). Reall has two goals and two assists, and Mancinelli has a goal and five helpers.
“I told my defensemen, ‘If you have open ice, I expect you to take that puck and go to the net,’ ” admitted Bryant. “I’m not very conservative with my defensemen. Defense is always No. 1, but I want them to be creative, and I want them to be explosive and offensive-minded. If you have the opportunity to score a goal, then absolutely go do it, but you have to be smart with it.”
While Pedro, Reall, and Wallace had to deal with some adjustments, they’ve also received a pleasant surprise -- despite hailing from Pawtucket, Pedro and Reall are the team’s captains. There was a little bit of mumbling among some of the Spartans’ fans when the news of their captaincy was announced, but that’s been ancient history.
“Scituate instituted a rule a few years ago where the school wanted players to write a letter to their head coach explaining why they felt they deserved to be a captain,” added Bryant. “I put it out there for everyone, and Jared and Teddy, who are both seniors from Tolman, are both wearing ‘C’s for me. It didn’t matter where they were from. This is a team of players, and it was the right thing to do. “
The Spartans are back in action on Saturday with a 7:30 p.m. game at the Mageria Ice Rink against Warwick Vets. A win would push them back to the .500 mark and keep them among the top four teams in the standings, which down the road, would translate into home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, something that was the furthest thought from the team’s mind a season ago.
“Our coach says this is a marathon,” said Wallace, who has a goal and six assists this season. “We’re already a few games into it and we have a long way to go.”
“We definitely want to get into the playoffs,” added Reall. “Hopefully, we’ll get hot at the right time and go far, but we’re going to have to work hard and get better all year.”
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24