Mark McGinn stressed to his young Blue Devil team that the only way to stick with two-time defending champion Bishop Guertin was to stick with the game plan and see if they could cash in on a few miscues by the Cardinals. That’s exactly what this young group did for 57 minutes at Skate III in Tyngsboro last Saturday afternoon in the Division 1 quarter-finals. Salem’s junior goalie sensation Robbie Liberatore would save an unbelievable 57 shots in the game before the Cardinals would score almost 12 minutes into overtime and move on to the Division 1 semi-finals with the 4-3 overtime win. The Blue Devil ice men were out hustling all over the ice and playing tough clean hockey right from the start, and Liberatore had already gave us a glimpse of what was to come by kicking away several Cardinal shots that were labeled in the first three minutes of the game. Salem then took advantage of a rare Cardinal mistake as Nick Barreira stole the puck and fed a streaking Mike Frahm, who slid the puck past goalie Dave O’Brien, for Salem’s early 1-0 lead, that told everyone there that there were plenty of Blue Devil fans in the house. The action was non-stop by both teams, with Bishop Guertin controlling about 90 percent of the time, but Liberatore was still standing on his head making saves, and Salem’s defense was playing inspiring hockey. Near the end of the first period, Salem senior defenseman Cory Lavallee made a rush around the Cardinal net and sent a pass out near the blue line to defenseman Kenny Frazier, who let go a slapshot that beat O’Brien high to the glove side. That put Salem up 2-0 with 21 seconds left in the first quarter, and the Salem fans nearly had the roof blowing off the building. The Bishop Guertin fans got their chance to howl just 11 seconds later when Kevin Morris was able to get his team on the scoreboard while slipping the puck around Liberatore to make it a 2-1 game after one period.
Bishop Guertin increased their offensive pressure, but Liberatore was equal to the task, and Salem defensemen Cory Lavallee, Kenny Frazier, Brian Shea, and Nick Barreira were nothing short of spectacular in letting Liberatore get a good look at the long shots and then sweeping away the rebounds out in front. The Cardinals Sean White was able to tie it up at 2-2 just 4:24 into the second period with the assists coming from Ward Gleason and Austin Caito, but five minutes later Salem junior Shane Delandy was busying digging the puck out of the corner and almost put a shot on net, but it found it’s way onto the stick of Junior forward Bryan Thibodeau who lit the lamp to put Salem back on top 3-2. Bishop Guertin was able to get the equalizer with just 23 seconds left in the second quarter when Greg Girtatos was assisted by Kevin Morris and T. J. Bond to send this game tied into the third period at 3-3. Liberatore stopped 18 more shots in the final 15 minutes, and Salem had a couple of real good scoring chances but the two teams went into their respective locker rooms to get ready for overtime. Guertin was being extra careful not to make a careless turnover, and Liberatore was still gloving or sticking away another 19 shots, but with 3:30 left in the first overtime period, Ward Gleason was able to lift a shot over Liberatore’s head for the game winner. Salem coach Mark McGinn had plenty to say following both teams exchanging handshakes. McGinn started off by saying, “If someone came to today’s game and really wasn’t a true hockey fan, then I bet you they came away smiling and shaking their head in approval. It was a hard-hitting clean game, and unfortunately we came up short, but I was never prouder of the way my kids played. This is what I asked my kids to do, to stick with our system and then pounce when we get a chance, and they did it to perfection. I asked Robbie, our goalie, to give us a chance to win and he was outstanding. I had Mike Frahm, John Pettoruto, and Dakota McKenzie all playing their butts off, and kids like Bryan Thibodeau, Shane Delandy, and Joey Simone were all out all game long. Then I had to take a chance and play kids like sophomore Matt Hemmerdinger, Tyler Phair, and Connor Lyons, and these kids were just fabulous. They did everything I told them, and we didn’t take any stupid penalties, and we came a hair from pulling off the big upset. I can’t say enough about the defense that was played by Cory Lavallee, Kenny Frazier, Nick Barreira, and Brian Shea. All four of them were outstanding during the game. I was also very happily surprised by the big Salem contingent up at the game in Tyngsboro. It looked like the big crowd was split down the middle and it really meant a little extra to our kids.”
The No. 8 seeded Blue Devils hockey team spotted No. 9 seeded Manchester West an early 3-0 lead on Wednesday at the Icenter, and then very diligently made their way back. Salem trailed 3-0 midway through the second period when junior forward Mike Frahm scored his first of two goals (which was a power play goal with the assist going to John Pettoruto) in the game to give West a 3-1 edge heading into the third period. Salem coach Mark McGinn said, “This is what I wanted to see from our kids. We got down three goals early, and I told them not to panic or take any unneeded penalties and we’d just try and scrap our way back into it, and that’s what they did. I will say that I told our guys to make the big checks and to play tough, and at the end of the first period I put freshman Mike Downing out there and a few seconds later he and West’s star, J. B. Mulvey, had a massive collision in front of our net where both players were both down for a few minutes afterward. That’s probably the hardest hit I’ve seen from a Salem hockey player since 2004 when Pat Halligan had two gems against kids from Manchester Memorial and Hanover. It also seemed to turn the game around in our favor too. Mike shook off the hit and came back with another shift in the second period, but I rested him after that.”
In the third period the Blue Devils came out hungry for bear, as Frahm cut West’s lead to 3-2 with 8:18 left when he tallied an unassisted short-handed goal and the crowd at the Icenter was roaring. Just four minutes later Salem junior Bryan Thibodeau tied the game up with a nifty goal that had him being mobbed by his teammates while the crowd was going berserk. It stayed that way too despite Salem being called for a hooking penalty, but that didn’t matter as Cory Lavallee stole the puck and went in and scored another short-handed goal on Tait Wamsley to put the Blue Devils up 4-3 with 2:25 left in the game. With just over a minute left in the game, the Blue Knights decided to pull their goaltender, but 10 seconds later John Pettoruto scored the eventual game-winning goal off of assists from Joe Simone and Kenny Frazier. West was able to score to make it a 5-4 game, but there was only five seconds left and the Blue Devils moved on with the 5-4 come-from-behind victory. After the game, coach Mark McGinn could only say, “That is what Salem hockey is all about. We had a plan, the kids stuck to it, and we got the “W” through a lot of hard work all the way through the line-up.”
Exeter found out two weeks ago, and Manchester Central found out last Friday night, that the Salem Blue Devils just might have an inside game when they need it. For the second time in the last two weeks, the Blue Devils stuck with their tenacious defense and pin-point outside shooting, but when they needed to go inside they found Salem’s 6-foot-four-inch, 280 pound senior Sean Bergeron. Junior playmaker Alex LaRosa poured in all 13 of his points in the first half against Manchester Central, and Josh Jones and Mike Kimball had 10 points each as the Blue Devils took a 23-16 first quarter lead before starting to pull away late in the second quarter. The Blue Devils had Kimball guarding All-State guard Will Bayless for the most part, and Bayless had all 15 of his points in the first half. Salem was able to enter the locker room at halftime holding onto a 40-28 lead over the Little Green, and they could credit their ball-hawk defense for holding the Little Green to just 28 points. Coach E. J. Perry was happy with the defensive effort but said that he wanted to shut Bayless down in the second half and wanted to spread the ball around more on offense.
Alex LaRosa, Josh Jones, and Mike Kimball would do JUST THAT in the second half. Coach E. J. Perry said the secret to the second half success was his team doing what it likes to do best — sharing the ball! Perry said, “These kids stayed focused on defense and Kimball held Bayless scoring in the second half, and Kimball just decided to keep dumping the ball off to Sean Bergeron. Bergeron had a great second half against Exeter a couple of weeks ago, but he was even better against Central. If Sean gives us efforts like that in the tournament, and our guys keep buckling down defensively and sharing the ball, we’re going to be tough to beat.” LaRosa added 10 assists to go along with his 13 points, Kimball had eight assists and eight rebounds, and Josh Jones had nine rebounds and six assists for the explosive Blue Devils. Salem outscored the Little Green 13-9 in that third quarter to take a 53-37 advantage into the final frame, but that was right in the middle of an impressive Sean Bergeron run that had him scoring 10 straight points. Perry later said, “Central was trying to get us out of our game, but our guys kept their cool and were digging in on defense and creating turnovers. That might have been our best performance of the year and it was a good time for it because we want to come out sharp Wednesday night in our opening round of the tournament against Timberlane.” The 65-47 final gave the Little Green their fourth loss of the year to go along with 14 wins, but it was their first lopsided loss of the entire season. Bergeron led all scorers with 18 points, but even bigger was his 12 rebounds that had the Blue Devils owning the boards along with teammates Joey Gallant and Mark Adamson. Kimball finished his night with 16 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists, and Josh Jones had 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and this group is hoping that there will be a sell-out crowd at Davis Gymnasium at Salem High this Wednesday night when they open up the Class L tournament with a game against the Timberlane Owls, who they beat by 30 points two weeks ago.
Salem’s 112-pound freshman Zach Hicks and senior 171-pound captain traveled down to New Haven, CT last weekend to partake in the New England Wrestling Championships that were won by Timberlane Regional of Plaistow. Hicks had qualified for this event when he finished second the week before to Bob Daniels of Concord in the 112-pound division in Londonderry. Hicks didn’t get any breaks at the New Englands as he had to start out against a Connecticut kid that was known as a brawler, and Hicks gave it his best shot until he got pinned with only 25 seconds left in the match. Zach Hicks next had to meet a real experienced wrestler from Wells, ME named Vanya Tomaszewski in his next bout and he slipped up about a minute into his match and got pinned and it ended midway through the first period. Coach Todd Oljey said of Hicks, “He did a sensational fob for a 14-year old freshman, and I know that is only going to be better, faster, and stronger for the next three years.”
Steve Comtois opened up his 171-pound division by drawing a match with Massachusetts’ number three wrestler Alex Najjar from Shawsheen Tech. This battle was intense with Najjar leading 2-1 after the first period before upping his lead to 4-2 late in the period, but Comtois got caught late and Najjar was able to take a last second pin. Comtois later faced a kid from Spaulding, VT, whom he had already wrestled twice earlier in the season. Comtois had lost his two other bouts with this guy by scores of 7-0 and 10-2, but after a scoreless first period, Comtois was down 2-1 late in the match, but just could get the escape to tie it up and he lost his second match by a score of 2-1. Coach Oljey had nothing but heaps of praise for his captain, saying “Steve Comtois was the heart of this team and all our other young wrestlers looked up to him the way he battled for every second that he was on the mat. We are really going to miss Comtois next season, but he might have a shot at landing a spot with the Coast Guard Academy if he’s lucky enough in the next month or two.” Coach Oljey will be back next week with us for a complete recap of a very successful season that is only going to keep getting better in the upcoming years.