Sentinels await another dogfight in D-I

Sentinels await another dogfight in D-I

Among the underclassmen to watch on this season’s Smithfield High boys’ hockey team is sophomore Ben Thibeault, who in last Friday night’s win over Mount Saint Charles scored a goal 6:38 into the game. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
Boys’ hockey team opens season with 5-3 win over Mount

WOONSOCKET – The Smithfield High boys’ hockey team came out fast and physical against Mount St. Charles Academy last Friday night and ended up taking a 5-3 victory in their Division I season opener at the Mounties’ Adelard Arena.

“Anytime you go to Mount, their team works their tail off every shift,” Smithfield head coach Rob Jackson said before the game. “(Mount) moves the puck very well, and they are well-coached. Every year, it is a recipe for playing good hockey, and whoever executes their game plan better and has the least mistakes will win.”

Five different players scored goals for the Sentinels, including a few who wasn’t members of last year’s team. The Sentinels did not have any issues scoring goals, and that is what they were kind of worried about that department at the start of the season. After last winter’s successful campaign, which saw Smithfield win the Division I-Cimini title with a 13-4 mark, the Sentinels graduated their top two goal scorers in David Goolgasian and Luca Ragosta. Jackson said that he did the math and those two players scored 78 percent of Smithfield’s goals last season.

Smithfield also graduated Chris Paiva, Tim Vennema, Jimmy Varin, Kyle Wagner, and Anthony Micoli, and another player the Sentinels lost, not to graduation, but to a prep school, was James Bellavoine, who transferred to The Wilson School in New Jersey. Bellavoine had been a mainstay on the top two lines.

Helping to fill in the blanks are freshmen Rafael Negron, who scored the first goal in the win over Mount, and Joe Pitrone. Sophomore Ben Thibeault also netted a goal that helped Smithfield take a 2-1 lead after a period of play.

“We have a pretty decent freshmen class, with seven or eight,” Jackson said. “We have a group that’s pretty talented and will see varsity time. Joey is a natural scorer and will be hard to keep out of the lineup, and Negron is a heads-y player. He is smart with the puck and has solid hands. These two guys have been in and out of the top nine forwards. If they crack the top nine, it will be good for them and our future.”

Jackson said that there will be opportunities for a lot of young kids to get in games this year. Unlike seasons past, Jackson now has depth on the bench, and he said he has 15 forwards he could put in the lineup. As for returning players from last year’s team, he said he has four forwards, four defensemen, and one returning goalie in junior Hogan Nelson.

With players returning, but a lot of new faces, Jackson has not set his lines completely yet. He said from the team’s annual Green and Gold game to its Injury Fund game, his lines have been different, and they were again different against Mount.

“Joey Paiva, up front, is a key aspect for us,” Jackson said. “He is a hard worker and great on penalty kills. Junior Anthony Lombardi is the same. Pearse McCullough, a junior, is a very heads-y player with good hockey sense. Dan Smith made his mark last year as a freshman and had a regular shift. He did a darn good job on the top two lines and will be back everyday.”

Returning between the pipes is Nelson, who had 28 saves at Mount last Friday. Smithfield’s top four defensemen are also back, including Tyler Piekarski, Logan Clavet, Ryan Falls, and Tyler Varin, and mixing in with them are Sean Martin, Dylan Falls, and Joseph DelGallo.

Jackson has three captains, Clavet, Piekarski, and Ryan Falls, with the assistant being DelGallo.

There are no easy teams in D-I this season, as Jackson said any team can beat anybody on any given day. That was especially true last weekend. Last Friday, as the Sentinels were playing the Mounties, La Salle defeated two-time defending state champion Hendricken, 2-0, in a rematch of last winter’s finals. The following night, the Mounties topped La Salle, 2-0, and Hendricken beat the Sentinels, 4-0.

The Sentinels will also have to contend with the likes of Moses Brown, Cranston West, Burrillville, Cumberland, and the Prout School.

“You can’t count out a team like Prout, who jumped up last year,” he said. “They have a good coach down there in John Gaffney. There is more parity in the league, and we will be in for a dogfight this season.”

Jackson said that his coaching staff is all returning and he said he is lucky to have them. He also highlighted Smithfield Ice Rink manager T.J. Tullie and how fortunate his program is to have him and the rink.

In the win over the Mounties, the Sentinels were never behind against Mount, but the hosts did tie the score twice. But with the game tied at 2-2, the Sentinels went ahead in the final minute of the second period on goals by Paiva and Ryan Falls and never looked back. Mount got back a goal with 3:20 to play in the game, but Adam Brennan sewed up the victory by scoring an empty-net goal with 72 seconds on the clock.

Smithfield is back in action on Saturday with a 6:30 p.m. game against the Cranston co-op team at Cranston Vets Arena.

Smithfield’s Ryan Falls, who helped the Sentinels beat Mount by netting a goal with 14.3 seconds left in the second period, is one of the captains on this winter’s team.