Returning backfield Jacques and Cannone
The Salem Blue Devils suffered their first losing season since 2003, but they were in every game except one this season, often suffering a late game setback because of a turnover or some mental mistake. Head coach Jack Gati, in his 15th year with the Blue Devils, had plenty of changes to his lineups during the season, due to many injuries and just trying different combinations of 11 eager kids to put together. The Blue Devils finished the season with a 4-6 record, but had some very close losses to the top teams in Division 1. Jack Gati said, “Except for our game up in Concord at the end of the season, we seemed to everybody tough. We just couldn’t get away from either having a couple of inopportune fumbles or major penalties at the wrong time or finishing off a long drive. We knew that we were young and experienced coming in, but we had our kids working very hard every day in every practice.”
Salem started off their season by defeating a very strong Keene team (15-14) on the road, and coach Gati knew way back then that the Blackbirds were a very good team and were going to give people a lot of problems this season, and they did, even defeating Bishop Guertin. Salem went to Londonderry and fumbled three times in the first half and put themselves in a 21-0 hole at halftime, but Max Jacques returned a kickoff for a touchdown and Salem pulled to within 21-14 midway through the fourth period. They were driving to tie this game up when they fumbled it back to the Lancers again. Salem beat up on Manchester Memorial 65-7 and broke the school record for points scored in a game. Salem was embroiled in a tough 14-7 first half at Pinkerton and then made it a 21-14 game in the fourth period, before losing 28-14. Timberlane was able to beat the Blue Devils 28-14 with All-State back Derek Furey, and then Salem lost a 7-0 heartbreaker to Nashua South, who’s playing Pinkerton for the title this Saturday. Salem then nipped Nashua North 21-20, but they suffered their one letdown of the season up in Concord when they dropped a 31-6 decision to the Crimson Tide. Salem smashed Manchester West 34-14 in their last home game, and then got edged 16-6 last Friday night against Manchester Central at Gill Stadium. The Blue Devils had two crackerjack co-captains this season in senior guard/linebacker Jharid Pratt and senior two-way tackle Vinny Manfrate. Jharid almost never came off the field, and Manfrate probably wouldn’t have either if not for suffering a season-ending knee injury against Timberlane. Coach Gati said, “Jharid was everywhere for us this season and Vinny was out horse along the offensive and defensive lines. We couldn’t have had two better co-captains who worked the hardest of anyone and who all the kids looked up to.” Salem had two senior ends that had great years, as Cory Lavallee and Tommy Tarallo were the Blue Devils top two receivers on the team, and Lavallee is one of the leading receivers in the Merrimack Valley. The Blue Devils went through many youngsters on their line this year. At the end of the season, Tyler MacLean, Cam Gromyko, Derek Mason, Dave Stewart, Chris Jacques, and Stevie Comtois were still standing and fighting to open up holes for the backs. Gati added, “We had a lot on injuries and the kids all worked hard, but we couldn’t come up with any lucky bounces.”
Salem found out that they are going to have a very good quarterback for the next two years, as sophomore Matt Cannone had a lot of success throwing the ball and didn’t have an interception in the entire season. Cannone took his share of beatings sitting behind the Blue Devil line, but always dusted himself off and got right back up and was ready for action. Sophomore running back Max Jacques was Salem’s leading rusher with over 800 yards and this 5-foot, 5-inch, 145-pound speedster is going to be something to watch again the next two years. Salem also got some nice running from seniors Chris Najem, Kyle Kenney, and Mike Rocheleau before they were injured, and Salem will have a sophomore next year named Jerickson Federick, who will be complimenting Jacques very nicely in the backfield.
Jack Gati finished it off by saying, “I think we’re going to have some nice skill position kids, and I see some smaller kids that should do well at center and the guard slots, but we’re going to be looking for some big kids to play the tackles and other positions. As long as they all come out and work extra hard, that’s the way we want things running.”
State Player of the Year Amanda Saab spikes one over the net as First team player Becca Weiss #2 comes to assist.
Dan Young thought for a few seconds about the great Division 1 title teams he had in 2006 and 2007 and said, “You know I think that this team might have been the best from top to bottom in our line-up, and it’s not just me who thinks that because my assistant coach Casey Stoodley agreed with me and she was the 2006 Player of the Year for that team.” The Salem girls went 18-3 as they lost a memorable 3-2 decision to number one Spaulding in the semi’s and the Red Raiders last slam came on a ball just inside the baseline, with Salem’s Amanda Saab stretched out on the floor trying in vain to get to that ball. Saab was rewarded for her efforts by receiving the Division 1 Girls Volleyball Player of the Year, and now coach Young and the rest of the Blue Devils are anxiously waiting to see if Saab can also claim the New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year award that will come out late in December. The amusing thing about this is that Casey Stoodley, Danielle Stoodley and some other Salem players talked Saab into trying out for volleyball in the summer after her freshman year. She started picking it up quickly midway through that season and finished her two and a half year career with almost 650 kills. Saab also spent long hours working on her jump serve that had a spin on it where it was tough for the other team to return it.
Coach Dan Young said, “I could talk for an hour straight and not cover everything that Saab did for us, but the key was the way she and Becca Weiss, Casey Peters, Melissa Paris, and Robyn Ciriello all got along and helped our younger girls mix in to make us that fundamentally sound team. For part of the season my team was down to 11 girls with people being injured and out of the line-up, but girls like freshman Kerry While and sophomore Melissa Ouelet stepped in and did the job while Begin and Ciriello were out of the line-up. Courtney Wright was out of the line-up for half of the season, but Nicole Boucher, Jess Therriault, and Alyssa Burnham all came through when we needed them and we only lost two matches during the regular season. I also had two girls like Erica Gallo, who’s only a sophomore and junior Kina Wilbur-Kamien, who would come in and pick up three or four service points and then added several assists from the back row, and they are only going to make us that much better come next August. Casey Peters, I would have to say was my Most Improved player of the year as she bailed us out with her serving and she was a cornerstone of this team. Then we had what I call our heart and soul of the team and that could only be senior Melissa Paris. She was a big sister to the younger girls and always played her best when we needed it. I found out what it was like to be playing without three of our stars, because Robyn Ciriello, Erica Begin, and Courtney Wright were out for more than half the season. Robyn gave us a big lift at the end of the regular season and was huge for us in the playoffs, and I could always slip Erica Begin in on the front lines and get some big kills. Courtney was just about getting into mid season form after missing almost the entire season, but you saw her performing in the clutch in the playoffs. I was lucky enough to get a sophomore from Wisconsin named Sarah Scott and all this girl did in her first year was to pick up 25-30 assists per night and finished up with 47 assists against Spaulding. Sarah will be making more noise for us in the next two years. Then we had little Erica Tilton who brought us back with her little serving runs that enabled us to tie up Spaulding at 2-2 by winning the third and fourth games. Erica will be another big part of the teams’ success next season. Another thing that held us together this season was the play of senior, Becca Weiss. I didn’t mean to do this, but sometimes I would be getting so comfortable that I would forget to take Becca out of the game for a rest. I knew if Becca was in the backline for us, that the other team was not going to serve to her. Becca. Like Saab, Ciriello, Peters, and Paris, are the special girls that put girls volleyball on the map for Salem, and I’m very fortunate to have had the last three years coaching these girls. They are and always will be very special to me.”
The Lowell Devils saw their winless streak stretch to seven games (0-5-1-1) as they were defeated in the shootout by the Albany River Rats, 3-2, on Saturday at the Tsongas Arena. River Rats goalie Justin Peters denied Patrick Davis in the bottom half of round five to secure his first win of the season and also give Albany its first victory in five games.
Tied 1-1 after the first period, the Devils would gather their first lead of the game on Trevor Kell’s first goal of the season. As Rod Pelley pushed toward the net and tried to kick the puck to his own stick, the carom instead went to a wide-open Kell, who quickly dumped it past a diving Peters with 46.6 seconds until the intermission.
Albany owned a 29-13 shot advantage through the last two periods of regulation and would tie the score 2-2 at 2:26 of third period off the stick of Joe Jensen. Bryan Rodney fed a perfect pass to the blueline that got Jensen behind the Devils’ defense and he finished it off with a wrist shot inside the far post.
Lowell had opportunities to put away Albany on a power play late in the game that extended into over time and also on a penalty shot for rookie Brad Snetsinger. The left-winger skated down the right wing and beat Peters to the blocker side, but rang the shot off the post.
The River Rats’ Jerome Samson opened up the scoring 11:36 into the first period batting his own rebound into the back of the net. John DiSalvatore helped the Devils respond 1:33 later during a 5-on-3 power play by rocketing a one-timer into the top right corner of the net.
Frazee made 41 saves through overtime in his third career start. The Devils were 1-for-6 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
In the shootout, Dwight Helminen, Jakub Petruzalek and Michael Ryan scored for Albany, while Lowell’s Eric Castonguay and Ryan Murphy converted through four rounds. Frazee made a pad save on Dan LaCouture’s tuck shot to give the Devils a chance to extend the shootout, but Peters got a pad on Davis’ backhand attempt to end the contest.
Lowell travels to face the Hartford Wolf Pack on Friday, November 21 at 7:00p.m and returns home for a two-game set against the Norfolk Admirals on Saturday, November 22 at 1:30p.m and the Springfield Falcons on Sunday, November 23 at 4:00p.m. Listen to all of the action live on 980AM-WCAP and ahllive.com as Ryan Johnston brings you all the play-by-play. Individual tickets are on sale now for the 2008-09 season. Contact the Devils at (978) 458-PUCK (7825) for more information or log on to www.lowelldevilshockey.com.