Adelard Arena was a packed house on Friday night, for the opening of the State Championship Semifinal series between MSC and LaSalle. The teams have played four times this season (including one non-league match up), and LaSalle took three of the four victories. But Mount comes into the playoffs as the hottest team in Division I, winning their last seven and nine out of their last ten, while leapfrogging LaSalle for the second seed in the playoffs.
From the drop of the puck there was an intense atmosphere in the building. From the rowdy spectators, to the vocal coaches, to the energized players on the ice, there was sense of urgency. And the early play reflected that sentiment, as both teams played a physical but clean brand of hockey.
MSC controlled for the opening minute, but LaSalle would strike first on the counterattack at 1:08 in the first period. A couple of sophomores collaborated on the early goal, as David Almeida made a great cross-ice pass through the neutral zone, finding Brian Lemos who found the nylon, beating Brian Larence to take a 1-0 lead.
"Unfortunately the first shot he saw went in. But you can't give up a 2-on-1 early in the game, especially to Lemos. He can put the puck in the net," MSC Coach David Belisle said.
The Mounties displayed a resilient spirit and kept up their intensity, dominating the remainder of the first period. The Rams made a plethora of turnovers in their own end, but the Mounties couldn't capitalize on the early mistakes, and went scoreless for the first period, despite outshooting LaSalle 15-10.
LaSalle Goalie Tyler Walsh was called for roughing in the early stages of the second period, enabling the Mounties to tie the score on the man-advantage. Ryan Berard showed off his stickhandling prowess with a series of fakes and an eventual wraparound pass, finding Brian Belisle for the equalizer.
The Mounties, riding the momentum, picked up another power play opportunity moments later on an interference call, and looked poised to take the lead. But Defensemen Nicholas Bennett had a costly turnover at the blue line, leading to a short-handed goal for Lemos on the odd-man rush, his second of the game.
MSC outplayed LaSalle for the remainder of the second and third period, but were stymied by LaSalle Goaltender Tyler Walsh, who stopped 46 of 47 shots. The Mounties pulled their goalie in the final minute and even hit the post with less than thirty seconds remaining, making for an exciting, yet agonizing finish for MSC and their fans.
It was a very well played game by both teams, with the short-handed goal proving to be the difference.
"I thought my team my played great. I'm disappointed in the score, but certainly not the effort. We just have to go out tomorrow with the same effort, and hope for a better result," Belisle said.
The Mounties and Rams will play game three of the best-of-three series at 7:30 p.m. tonoight in Woonsocket.