Shorthanded Chieftains pay steep price

Shorthanded Chieftains pay steep price

Ponaganset senior Ryan Watts scored his 34th goal of the season in the third period of last Friday’s Division II best-of-three semifinal-round series opener against the PSW co-op team, but the Chieftains suffered a 6-2 loss, as well as a 6-3 defeat the following night. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
Playing without four suspended players, hockey team bows to PSW co-op squad in D-II semis

HARRISVILLE – After rolling over Portsmouth in the Division II quarterfinals, the Ponaganset High boys’ hockey team had its work cut out for itself in last weekend’s best-of-three semifinals against the Providence Country Day/St. Raphael Academy/Wheeler co-op team, especially since the Chieftains took the ice shorthanded.

The Chieftains played without four players, most notably their starting senior goaltender and one of their top senior defensemen, who were suspended, and they paid a big price for the absences, as the PSW co-op team swept the series by winning last Friday’s opener at Levy Arena, 6-2, and the following night’s second game, 6-3, at Lynch Arena.

While the 3rd-seeded PSW co-op squad (16-4) is advancing to the finals for the first time in five years – it will face unbeaten Cumberland this weekend at Brown University’s Meehan Auditorium – the 2nd-seeded Chieftains (15-5), which posted their best record in their three-year stint as a D-II team, are out of the playoffs after giving up as many as six goals in a game for the first time this winter, and on back-to-back nights.

An off-the-ice incident that resulted in the team’s suspensions, which the Ponaganset coaching staff did not discuss after last Friday’s contest, clearly played a role in the Chieftains’ two worst defensive showings of the season. PSW only scored more than four goals on four occasions during the regular season.

“(The suspended players) made a poor judgement and a bad misstep,” Ponaganset head coach David Plante said. “Initially, there were nine (players), but now we’re down to four.”

The co-op team scored the first goal in last Friday’s game 2:37 into play on the first of two goals by Bennett Hicks, before extending its lead to 3-0 in the first 5:43 of the second period.

The score stayed that way until the Chieftains jumped on the board 5:28 into the third period, as Nathan Watts fed the puck to his brother, Ryan, for his team-leading 34th goal of the season. But just 24 seconds later, the co-op team got that goal back, and a little more than two minutes later, PSW upped its lead to 5-1.

The Chieftains kept their heads down and continued to plug along, and their effort paid off when Matt Carlson scored a power-play goal with 3:56 remaining.

They soon pulled their goalie, Ryan Kut, for an extra skater with just over a minute to go, and after PSW was called for a slashing penalty, but Hicks netted a shorthanded, empty-net goal that put an exclamation mark on PSW’s win.

“Obviously, I can honestly say I don’t think Ponaganset hockey was played here tonight,” Plante noted. “Not in the way it should have been played. Maybe (the players) were distracted or maybe they weren’t. Emotional games are emotional games; tonight wasn’t a good night emotionally.”

As for Kut, who finished the game with 36 saves, “he stepped up and played,” Plante said. “We played against Portsmouth and he was forced into action because of all of this other misfortune, and he played very well. Tonight, he played a good game. The boys carried him.”

The following night’s loss saw the PSW team storm out to a 3-0 lead in the opening 6:15 of play, with Mike Barone scoring the first two in the first three minutes.

But Ponaganset cut their deficit to a goal after two periods of play, thanks to Nathan Watts’ goal with 1:47 to play in the first period, which was set up by Matt Meinertz and Ryan Watts, and Meinertz’s power-play goal off a pass from Jacob Lincourt with 4:39 left in the second period.

But PSW scored three times in a span of 4½ minutes (with two goals coming on the power play) midway through the third period to ruin Ponaganset’s comeback hopes. Meinertz netted an unassisted goal with 40 seconds to play in the game, but it was too little, too late.

In their quarterfinal-round series against 7th-seeded Portsmouth, the Chieftains swept the series by scores of 8-3 and 7-4. Lincourt had a monster series that saw him score five goals and add six assists; Ryan Watts tallied four goals, and Nathan Watts had three goals and as many assists.

Ponaganset senior Matt Meinertz scored a pair of goals in the second game of the Chieftains’ best-of-three semifinal-round series against the Providence Country Day/St. Raphael Academy/Wheeler School co-op team last Saturday night at Lynch Arena, but the PSW squad came away with a 6-3 victory that completed a sweep of their series.