Seems like old times for Clippers

Seems like old times for Clippers

Cumberland senior Jackson Shevlin scored his team-high ninth and 10th goals of the season to help the Clippers blank Coventry, 3-0, in their Division III game last Friday night at West Warwick’s Magiera Arena. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
After spending last two winters in state’s elite division, hockey team savors 11-0 start in return to D-II

CUMBERLAND – When the Cumberland High hockey team made the quantum leap to Division I two seasons ago, they went into battle against the likes of parochial powers Bishop Hendricken, La Salle, and Mount Saint Charles with one of its youngest squads in recent memory, one loaded with freshmen and sophomores.

The promotion to the state’s premier league was the price the Clippers paid for their success during the past few seasons, which included an undefeated Division II championship during the 2013-14 campaign and back-to-back appearances in the non-state Division I-Eccleston title series the following two winters.

But after totaling just five wins and four ties over the past two seasons, the Clippers are back in D-II, thanks to the RIIL’s offseason realignment, and they’re putting together a truly sensational season that’s mirroring their team from five years ago.

Last weekend, the Clippers improved their record to 11-0 by skating to a pair of victories during a 21-hour span (and on two of their longest bus rides of the season). Last Friday night at West Warwick’s Magiera Arena, they topped Coventry, 3-0, and the following afternoon, they netted a 5-1 win over Portsmouth at Portsmouth Abbey’s rink.

The strong start has certainly been an exciting one for the Clippers and their fans, but while it’s been the talk in the CHS hallways, veteran head coach Mark Andreozzi knows there’s a very long way to go in the season, especially with a few tough tests among the five games remaining on their schedule and the playoffs beginning in the first weekend of March.

“This was only game (number) 10,” he said after last Friday’s win over Coventry. “We’re not even looking at our record. Now that this game’s over, we’re on to tomorrow’s game, and then the next game after that, and it’s about getting better everyday, learning from each game to make ourselves better.”

Getting better each day and learning from each game was something Andreozzi preached during the past two seasons in D-I. Cumberland’s first season in the league was an arduous one that ended with a 2-13-2 mark, but while last season’s record was 3-11-2, there weren’t any blowouts among those games, just competitive hockey from start to finish and plenty of growth and improvement from the players.

“That was a challenge for us, especially in that first year with no goalie,” he said. “But we persevered and we got better, and we played in some tight games – all our scores last year were close. I think (our players) got confidence in their ability, and for some kids, it was a little bit trial by fire, because we just didn’t have depth and that’s the biggest difference in that division, but it was a great learning experience.”

While the Clippers are undefeated, they’re not blowing out too many opponents. Six of their games have been decided by three or less goals, and two went down to the wire, a 3-2 victory over neighboring rival Lincoln (that saw an LHS comeback come up short in the final period) on Jan. 25 at Adelard Arena and a 2-1 win on the road over the Rogers/Middletown/Rocky Hill co-op team before the holiday break.

“I feel (D-II) is where we should be right now, not because of our record, but more because it’s just a level-playing field from top to bottom,” added Andreozzi, whose squad also scraped out a 3-1 victory over second-place Ponaganset that’s the Chieftains’ only loss in their 12 games. “And it’s hard in this league. It’s not easy. You really have to be ready to play.”

The Clippers were certainly ready to play against the always-competitive Oakers last Friday. Senior forward Jackson Shevlin scored his team-leading ninth and 10th goals of the year to give the Clippers an early lead, but they weren’t able to breathe easy until classmate Stephen Ciolino slipped in an empty-net goal with 8.4 seconds left in the game.

“We played well,” said Andreozzi. “We dominated on the forecheck in the first period and I think that set the tone for the rest of the game. I thought we gave a solid effort all the way around, from the defensive zone to the forecheck. We had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t bury, but overall, I’m proud of the way we played tonight.”

While Shevlin, who added his 11th goal of the season in the win over Portsmouth, and his junior linemates, Jordan Cullion (seven goals, five assists) and Aidan Cleary (four goals, nine assists) have keyed the Clippers offensively, the defense has been truly spectacular, allowing just eight goals all season and shutting out five teams.

Sophomore goalie Jack Byrne, who is coming off a superb freshman season, currently leads the division in goals-against-average (0.82) and save percentage (.952), and the defensemen in front of him, namely seniors Sean Meers and John Mello and junior Ryan Taylor, have also played very well.

The Clippers will return to action this weekend with back-to-back 9 p.m. home games at Adelard Arena, as they will play the Providence Country Day/St. Raphael Academy/Wheeler co-op squad on Friday and North Smithfield on Saturday. The co-op team entered the week in fourth place with an 8-3 record.

Another game to highlight on the schedule is the Clippers’ showdown with third-place Cranston West on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Adelard. The Falcons, who came into the week with a 10-4 record, joined the Clippers in dropping from D-I to D-III during the offseason.

Cumberland senior forward Stephen Ciolino, #22, tries to keep the puck away from Coventry junior defenseman Anthony Matola during last Friday night’s game. The Clippers remained undefeated by skating to a 3-0 win.
Cumberland sophomore goalie Jack Byrne stopped 25 shots for his fifth shutout of the season.