PAWTUCKET – After breaking out to a two-goal lead in the first period of last Saturday night’s Division I-B matchup against East Greenwich High at Lynch Arena, the Cumberland High hockey team saw the Avengers get back into the game, no thanks to two Clippers’ penalties, and skate off with a 4-2 win that gave the Clippers their third loss in four games.

The Clippers are back in the state’s top division this winter after skating to a 3-6 mark last year that featured a few one and two-goal defeats. With powerhouses La Salle Academy and Bishop Hendricken, which dealt the Clippers their first two losses of the winter, highlighting the I-B subdivision, this season again promises to present plenty of challenges.

“We’re optimistic,” added veteran Cumberland head coach Mark Andreozzi. “We’re in the toughest division in Rhode Island. There’s 11 (teams) and everyday is a battle. I think this is where the best teams are, and this is where you want to be. I think we’re there, but we’re a little young.”

Only two seniors, defenseman Nicholas Boisvert and left wing Olin Medeiros, are on this winter’s roster, and leading the younger players are junior left wing Troy Senn and junior defenseman Jacob Lopes, who earned Third-Team All-Division honors last year.

“My returnees are juniors and sophomores, and I’m playing a couple of freshmen here and there,” Andreozzi said. “They’re young.”

Another thing of note about this season’s team: Lynch Arena will be its home rink for five of its seven home games this winter. After calling Adelard Arena home for the past few decades, the Clippers are no longer skating out of Woonsocket. They will also host a game at the Rhode Island Sports Center on Route 146, and their final home game will be at Providence College’s Schneider Arena.

“When you grow up in Rhode Island, you play in every rink,” Andreozzi said. “It’s fine. We enjoy it. We don’t necessarily practice here, but here and 146 will be (used for) home games.”

The last time the Clippers played was before Christmas, on Dec. 19, when they earned their first win of the season by skating to a 2-0 victory over Barrington in their home debut in Pawtucket. The goals came from junior center Jamie Robbins midway through the second period and sophomore center Sam Lopes in the final period, and junior goalie Jared Johnson stopped 30 shots for the shutout.

Despite being idle for nearly three weeks, the Clippers did everything they could to reach the .500 mark and top an East Greenwich team, which 24 hours earlier, had upset Bishop Hendricken, 3-2, at Schneider Arena.

The Avengers did not come out for last Saturday night’s game with as much spunk as Cumberland did, and the Clippers jumped on the board 2:14 into the game on a power-play goal by Robbins that was set up by Sam Lopes.

Midway through the first period, the Clippers doubled their lead, After East Greenwich senior goalie Cole Barron stopped a shot from junior Christian Oliveira, sophomore Connor Magill kept the puck in the Avengers’ territory, and moments later, Sam Lopes made it a 2-0 game.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, back-to-back penalties in the final seven minutes of the second period helped the Avengers net three goals during a two-minute span and claim the lead for good.

“(East Greenwich) is a good team,” Andreozzi said. “We knew how good they would be and we had to come to play. I thought we were ready and we played well, but some mistakes and penalties cost us.”

Despite a five-minute penalty by the Avengers that went from the end of the second period into the opening minutes of the third, the Clippers could not find the back of the net. And with just two minutes left in the game, the Avengers iced the victory when their top scorer, senior Corey Szabo, got his third goal of the night.

“We got a little tired toward the end of the second (period),” admitted Andreozzi. “Penalties killed us. You wear out that way, and that allowed (East Greenwich) to get back in the game and give them energy, and that changes the landscape. In the third period, we were on (the puck), but we just couldn’t bury it.”

Despite the loss, Andreozzi had nothing but good things to say about his goalie, Johnson, who ended the night with 35 saves.

“Jared is awesome,” he said. “He played phenomenal. We didn’t give him any help on a couple (of goals), but he’s played well and he’s a part of that junior class.”

The Clippers will next host the Toll Gate/Pilgrim co-op squad on Friday at 7 p.m. at Lynch Arena, and next Monday at 3:30 p.m., they are scheduled to travel to Smithfield for a matinee matchup with the Sentinels, who did not play last weekend because of COVID issues with the team.

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