WOONSOCKET – If the recent past is any indication, Lincoln High should be able to withstand the onslaught Cumberland will bring when the two archrivals meet in a key Division II-North matchup at 7:30 tonight at Adelard Arena.
A year ago, the Lions posted a rather easy win in their first regular-season clash, though the Clippers forged a thrilling 3-3 stalemate on this same ice last February; that became the lone blemish on a slate that included an eventual 23-0-1 mark, not to mention the capture of the R.I. Division II Tournament championship.
En route to claiming that crown, Lincoln mustered back-to-back semifinal triumphs over the Clippers; that means it hasn't lost to Cumberland in its last four tries.
Still, a new season brings renewed momentum and desire – or lack of it. Cases in point: Head coach Jim Riel and Co. took on talented Medfield, Mass. in the initial tilt of the Burrillville Winter Classic on Dec. 30 but suffered a tough 5-0 defeat. In turn, they edged the host Broncos on New Year's Eve to finish 1-1.
The Clippers, who also attended that event at Levy Arena, who outlasted Division I foe Barrington, 3-2, in the opening round, later snared the Classic title with a stunning 4-3 double-shootout win over Medfield, mentored by former Burrillville All-Stater Toby Carlow.
“We haven't lost to Cumberland in at least three or four years,” Riel stated of the contest, which will pit the last two II-North unbeatens against each other. “The game we lost to Medfield, that was a tremendous team; I thought after it would be the toughest opponent we'd have to face all year. Those guys can skate.
“But losing, I don't think that should shake us,” he continued. “We defeated Cumberland last year in the semis, and I thought our (clinching) 4-1 win was the best we played all season. They're very good, there's no doubt about it, and there's a couple of things about them: First, they're much older and more experienced, they're more mature as hockey players.
“With that comes a lot of discipline on the ice, understanding their roles. We're going to have to make sure we keep the mistakes down to a minimum; if we give them opportunities, they're going to pounce on them.”
The Clippers – who currently hold a 6-0 overall mark (4-0 league) – have a plethora of goal-scoring threats, among them juniors Greg Wellington, a center, and John Wainwright, a right wing, as well as sophomore winger Jake Salisbury.
Other offensive-minded players include senior Andrew Pluta and freshman Jimmy Cabral, who scored the equalizer late in the third before Wainwright knocked in the clincher for the sudden-death, double-shootout victory over Medfield.
Defensively, head coach Mark Andreozzi has relied on senior Jamie Casilli, sophomore Derek Bross and juniors Kyle McKenna and Tom Malloy.
“Another key for them is their keeper,” Riel admitted. “(Junior) Leo Lake, I thought, was tremendous in that game against Medfield. He must have had over 60 saves. What that win told me was Cumberland has a bend-but-don't-break attitude; they jump all over the opportunities given them.
“What we're going to have to do is buzz their net, get as many shots as possible on him,” he added. “I mean, the more you shoot, the more chances there are for a puck to go in. We did the same thing against them last year, so it's no secret. We're going to have to do the same thing if we want to win.”
Lincoln will carry a 6-0 II-North into this clash.
“It was exhilarating, getting that win over Medfield to take the Winter Classic title,” Andreozzi indicated. “That's a good team, really good, but Leo played the whole time and was super. He made some great saves for us, though we did some good things in front of him as well. The kids were excited about coming back and beating a great team. We played well.
“Now what we have to do is carry that momentum. (Lincoln) is the state D-II champion, and they're undefeated in league, so we're going to have to play just well as we did against Medfield if we want to win.”
Andreozzi mentioned his squad didn't practice Thursday, as all afternoon activities at most schools around the state had been canceled.
“We played Barrington and Medfield back-to-back; it would be nice to get on the ice (Thursday), but we're going to take advantage of the rest,” he offered.
When asked about the Lions' 3-0-1 record against his club last season, Andreozzi insisted, “I'm just going to tell them the same thing I do before every game – the past doesn't matter. What if we were 4-0 against them in our last four games? Who cares? This is still just one game, and we have to play it; so do they. They're a very good team, and so are we, so let's buckle down and play to our very best capabilities.”
As for the technical aspects, he noted, “We're going to have to start out fast, move our feet and get some shots on their goalie (junior Chris Leclaire). Chris is very strong in net, and he played well last year and also in the (Burrillville) tournament.
“That was the first time I got to see him play this season, and I've told the kids we're going to have to stay on top of him, skate hard and fast to the net and try to beat him … Still, we have 14 more league games to go, and the next one up is Lincoln.
“I'll just say to the kids, 'Hey, they're the defending state champs, and we're going to have to play like we did against Medfield,'” he added. “Our defense did a good job in that one, Leo was outstanding and our forwards skated hard, but, guys, if we don't have those three facets working, we're going to lose. We need that same kind of effort.”