Clippers hit midway point at 8-0

Clippers hit midway point at 8-0

Cumberland senior center and captain Aidan Cleary, left, battles Toll Gate freshman defenseman Gerard Schifino for a loose puck near center ice during last Friday’s Division II game at Thayer Arena. The Clippers scored five times in the third period to break open a close game and skate to a 7-1 win. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
Defending D-II hockey champions continue to win close games behind senior veterans, talented newcomers

CUMBERLAND – The All-State goaltender and MVP of last winter’s Division II championship series has left the program and joined the prep school ranks at Worcester Academy.

Seven seniors have graduated from the title-winning team, and helping make up for their void are four freshmen who are seeing significant time on the ice.

And the injury bug has placed four players on the shelf.

Nevertheless, the Cumberland High hockey team is skating into the midway point of its Division II schedule with an 8-0 mark that’s good for sole ownership of first place in the league.

The Clippers picked up their latest two victories on the road by overcoming a slow start to belt Toll Gate, 7-1, last Friday at Thayer Arena, and then netting a 3-1 win over North Kingstown the following night at URI’s Boss Arena.

The Clippers had entered last Saturday’s game trailing previously undefeated South Kingstown by a half game in the standings, but the Rebels suffered a 3-2 loss to the Rogers/Middletown/Rocky Hill co-op team later that night at St. George’s School in Newport and slipped to 8-1.

The Clippers’ superb start marks the fourth time in the last seven years that they have won their first eight games, but with January turning into February this weekend and several games left on his team’s schedule, veteran head coach Mark Andreozzi cares very little about his team’s unbeaten record.

“Our record is a record,” he said after Friday’s victory. “At the end of the season, are we a better team? That’s what matters to me, our coaching staff, and our players. We just want to keep working hard and keep getting better, and hopefully, we’re in a good spot at the end of the year.”

While the Clippers are riding high at 8-0, all but one game – an 11-1 rout of one-win Ponaganset two weekends ago – were close contests. In last week’s win over the Titans, the Clippers only led by a 2-1 score after two periods, but they scored back-to-back power-play goals 76 seconds apart from each other at the start of the third period and added two more power-play goals in the final 4:46 of the game.

“We did really well on the power play, which really jump-started us,” Andreozzi remarked. “We were outplaying them in the first two periods, but we weren’t doing the little things to finish.”

As for the other six victories, two were down-to-the-wire 3-2 wins over the Providence Country Day/St. Raphael Academy/Wheeler School co-op squad and North Smithfield, three were decided by two goals, and they opened their season with a closer-than-it-looks 5-2 win over Portsmouth.

“We’re not beating anybody big, and those games could have gone either way,” added Andreozzi. “We could easily have a losing record, so we need to keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing, keep getting better, and learn from these games.”

In the victory over the Titans, the Clippers went with a lineup that saw senior captain Aidan Cleary centering the first line of freshmen Jamie Robbins and Troy Senn, and another 9th-grader, Christian Oliveira, on the second line with junior center Nick Badeau.

“I can’t remember the last time we had that many freshmen playing on a regular basis,” Andreozzi added. “We have a good senior core, but also we have four good freshmen that are helping us out, so we’re still young and we’re still learning.”

Defensively, the Clippers have been in very good hands with seniors Domenic Rousseau and Ryan Taylor leading the way from the blue line, as well as four goaltenders on their roster – senior Owen Perron, junior Adam Connell, sophomore Savannah Joseph, and freshman Jared Johnson.

“I went from one goalie a few years ago – and pulling a kid off the football field to play – to four this season,” Andreozzi said with a laugh. “Our goaltending situation is great. Owen is a senior who is in his fourth year with this team and he’s dialed in and doing well, and our other three are also good goaltenders.

“We’re happy with them,” Andreozzi added. “We’re trying to get everyone playing time and some experience, because the more we can play them, hopefully the better they are down the road.”

Speaking of down the road, Andreozzi hopes he can get some of his injured players back in action soon, and among the ones who are out include three who helped the Clippers win the D-II title last winter: the Sisson brothers, senior forward Keith and junior forward Cole, and senior forward Jordan Cullion.

“I have a M.A.S.H. unit on the bench,” Andreozi added with a laugh. “Those are three big players for us, so we’re just trying to make it work for now, and hopefully we can get healthy as soon as possible and be in a good spot in a couple of weeks.”

As for this week, the Clippers will return to Adelard Arena on Friday for a 7:45 p.m. game against South Kingstown and head to St. George’s School the following night for an 8:30 p.m. meeting with the RMR co-op team.

For those fans looking ahead to a late-February showdown with South Kingstown, it will be Friday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. at Adelard.