EAST MONTPELIER — Cam Gosselin went a perfect 17-0 on face-offs Friday, keeping the Spaulding boys lacrosse team at the top of the heap and in control of its playoff destiny.
Gosselin’s dominance in the circle fueled a 14-2 victory over U-32. First-year coach Ian Thomas and the Crimson Tide (9-1) are flying high with one week left in the regular season, needing three more victories to secure the No. 1 seed for playoffs. On Monday, they’ll host an 8-3 Stowe team that owns six straight victories before finishing up against Milton (5-8) and St. Johnsbury (3-7).
“We’re on a mission to grow together as a team — even if we have a day off or just a team meeting,” Thomas said. “I’ve been so impressed by how hard these guys work and their level of focus this whole season. It’s great to share my passion for lacrosse with a group of kids who want to win and become better players together.”
Spaulding opened up a 3-0 lead over U-32 in the first quarter. Raiders goalie Max Kissner made a few clutch early stops and finished with 28 saves
“(Kissner) had a monster game,” Thomas said.
The Tide led 8-0 at halftime and carried a 14-1 advantage into the final quarter. Spaulding’s top scorers were Aiden Blouin (three goals, four assists), Travis Roy (two goals, two assists), Gosselin (three goals, one assist) and Colby Berard (three goals). Jacob Washburn scored twice for the Tide, Myles Aja added one goal and Carter Dickinson notched one assist. Owen Barr won five ground balls, while Luke Parker and Owen Kresco won four apiece. Goalie Attilio Perantoni stopped 14 shots for the Tide, who have outscored opponents 107-35 this season.
“U-32 had some good opportunities, and they have some really talented guys who can get open and get third hands free and take some good shots,” Thomas said. “But we were able to have long possessions. So they felt pressured to produce early on offense and we created a lot of transition looks. That’s where our defense really shines: forcing a quick look and easy shots that Attilio can save. Of course it helps when Cam wins so many face-offs, because other teams feel like they need to produce so fast.”
Thomas is a 2014 Norwich University graduate who majored in criminal justice. He ended his four-year lacrosse career at Norwich ranked fifth all-time in goals and sixth all-time in assists and points. The attackman gained a reputation for his high work rate, leading the 2013 squad to its first conference championship title. He served as the assistant coach for the South Burlington boys lacrosse team from 2015-2017, and during 2016 and 2017 he was also an assistant for Norwich.
When he submitted his résumé for the Spaulding job last January, it was a win-win scenario for Thomas and the Barre community. Thomas’ commute from work to practice is now a lot easier, and the level of lacrosse in the Granite City is soaring.
“I’ve been working as a behavior interventionist at Barre City Elementary and Middle School for the past four years,” Thomas said. “A lot of the freshmen and sophomores, I’ve known before the season started, so that helped my transition. I’ve been really impressed with everything this year. If you told me we’d be sitting here at 9-1, I might not have believed you. But it’s a testament to everything the team has done this year.”
Many of Spaulding’s standouts were part of winless seasons just a few years ago, making the lacrosse renaissance even sweeter. In 1993, the Tide were one of six schools that fielded a team, and they competed as a Division I team through the 2015 season before shifting to D-II.
The program has never claimed a title, but a 9-4 campaign in 1993 included a trip to the championship. The Tide went 10-5 the following year, suffering an 8-9 semifinal loss against eventual champ Middlebury. Spaulding went 9-4 in 2002 after falling to CVU, 7-6, in the semifinals. The program struggled in the past decade, producing a pair of victories from 2014-2017. But last year’s squad went 7-6-1, bowing out in the quarterfinals with an 11-10 loss against Stratton.
This upward trajectory has been undeniable this season, with 29 players filling the varsity and JV rosters.
“We’re a tight-knit team,” Thomas said. “... I’ve been pushing a family atmosphere and staying together, and it’s kind of naturally happened. Just being together for this past 10 weeks, we’ve really gown as a team and everyone is there for each other.”
Thomas estimates that half of his athletes were on the hockey team this winter, and some of the upperclassmen skated in the 2017 and 2018 finals. The Tide coach says that hockey and lacrosse skills complement each other, and it doesn’t hurt to have an established camaraderie entering preseason.
“The transition from hockey to lacrosse is one of the smoothest in any sport.” Thomas said. “Growing up, I was always getting my hockey friends to come with us because the sports are so similar. And the way the rules have changed in lacrosse, I try to teach using the hockey check where you’re hitting hip-first and you keep your head and shoulder away. I think it definitely helps that there are so many hockey guys on team.”
Another benefit to having a slew of two-sport athletes is the fact that Thomas’ players know the importance of staying out of the penalty box. While hockey and lacrosse can be rough at times, Spaulding’s players have displayed impressive restraint and discipline.
“One of the big things that I preach is feet-first defense, and we practice defense with no sticks,” Thomas said. “So it’s all about body position and where we want to force the offensive player to go — as opposed to stopping them with your stick and taking the ball away. So that has helped with fewer penalties this year. ... My personal goal is to have less than five penalties per game, and we’ve done a good job of that for the most part.”
It doesn’t hurt that Perantoni has stopped 80% of shots fired, while Gosselin has won 80% of face-offs. Barr, Parker and Kresco lead the defensive unit along with Zach Millette, Heath Atwood and Max Spaulding. Their collective efforts led to double-digit victories over Lamoille, St. Johnsbury, U-32 and Mount Abraham.
“Attilio is so aggressive,” Thomas said. “He’ll step out if he sees we’re a man down or the other team is in transition. ... To have a goalie with stick skills and who can see the field, it helps to control the defense and to direct players to get to open spots. He really plays as a seventh defender out there.”
Spaulding opened the season with a 9-7 victory over D-I Rutland and an 8-5 win over Stowe. The Tide held off defending champ Harwood, 9-7, before suffering a 9-5 loss to Hartford. Spaulding and Stowe are trailed in the rankings by Hartford (8-3), Harwood (6-3) and Otter Valley (5-3).
“To me, the best teams we’ve seen in D-II are Hartford, Harwood and Stowe,” Thomas said. “Based on Hartford’s numbers and the quality of lacrosse they play, I think they are the team to beat. But Harwood showed last week they’re just as good, if not better. I think we shocked Harwood with our pressure and we were able to disrupt their offense. And Cam had a great game against Harwood. The difference-maker against Hartford was that Cam and Reece (Thompson) split on face-offs. And Stowe is a top contender as well. They have the ability to beat any team on any day.”