January 24, 2012

Small College Journal: Killer of a run for Salem State

By Mike Zhe

 Games don’t get much wilder than the one Salem State played against Westfield State on Saturday, a 6-6 overtime draw with a snowstorm backdrop that featured three ties and a bunch of momentum swings.

Salem State forward Nick Lampson (photo: Salem State Athletics)

The Vikings started fast, watched things slip away, finally rebounded and had something to play for at the end.

Sounds an awful lot like the way their whole season has gone.

The Vikings are 9-5-2 (6-2-2 MASCAC), a nice rebound from a start that saw them get out of the gate 2-0-1 but then lose five of the next eight, the last two to Colby and New England College in overtime.

Since then they’re unbeaten in their last five, with four wins preceding Saturday’s high-scoring tie.

“We’ve been playing pretty well,” said longtime Salem State coach Bill O’Neill (Lynn, Mass.). “Power play, penalty killing has been good. (Goaltender) Ryan (Sutliffe) has been solid. I think, overall, team defense has been good.”

With the MASCAC receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament this year, every program knew that the fight to obtain that bid would be a heated one. And, as January winds down, it’s Salem State maybe playing like the team that wants it most of all.

“It comes down to you want to play your best at the end,” said O’Neill. “The team with the best goaltending and consistent special teams is going to have the best chance.”

The Vikings took a while to find their skating legs this season, but the future stretching out in front of them looks promising.

Their league mark of 6-2-2 has them tied with Plymouth State for first place, with UMass-Dartmouth (6-3-1) only one point back. Like the AFC and NFC playoffs, six teams make the conference tournament and the top two gets first-round byes. None of those three teams wants to end up in third place.

Of their top seven scorers, only one – forward Giancarlo Capodanno – is a senior. Junior Nick Lampson (Groton, Mass.), who had a hat trick in the 6-6 tie with Westfield State, leads the way with 10-8-18 totals.

Defensively, Salem State allowed three or more goals in each of their first six games, but only four out of 10 times since then. The penalty kill is ranked sixth in Division 3 and their 6-1-1 record away from home shows their mental toughness.

The Vikings will conclude their second of three trips through the MASCAC this week with games against Framingham State and Worcester State. With an automatic bid to the NCAAs awaiting the league tournament champion, figure on the battles only getting more charged from here.

“It does create the rivalries and the intensity,” said O’Neill. “You have the chances to see teams and, with the Internet, you can see anyone whenever you want.

“It’s all going to come down to the last game.”

Game of the Week

Curry at Johnson & Wales, Saturday

Colonels have taken their lumps outside the league, as a recently-snapped seven-game winless streak showed, but are still perfect in the ECAC Northeast. The high-scoring Wildcats present the stiffest test they’ve faced yet.

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Norwich (13-1-1, 9-1 ECAC East)

Cadets flexed their muscles after absorbing their first loss, blasting St. Michael’s by scores of 7-1 and 8-0. Travis Janke’s 18 assists are the 10th-most in Division 3.

2. Castleton State (14-3, 9-1 ECAC East)

Spartans got all they could handle from the University of New England in the back end of a two-game swing through Maine, needing a goal from Reid Lesswing with one second left in regulation in a 3-2 win.

3. Bowdoin (10-4-2, 8-2-2 NESCAC)

Is anybody in New England playing better than the Polar Bears, who knocked off Williams (4-2) and Middlebury (5-0) over the weekend? Their average of 4.62 goals is fourth-highest in the nation.

4. Amherst (11-2-1, 8-1-0 NESCAC)

Road-weary Lord Jeffs were held to just 12 shots on goal in a 3-0 loss at No. 11 Utica on Saturday, their seventh of nine consecutive road games.

5. Williams (10-2-4, 7-2-1 NESCAC)

Ephmen gutted one out at Colby Saturday, winning 5-4 despite getting outshot 32-16. Goalie Ryan Purdy ranks seventh in Division 3 in save percentage (.931).

6. Johnson & Wales (10-5-2, 4-1-1 ECAC Northeast)

Jeremiah Ketts (14-25-39) and Danny Kaufman (17-16-33) continue to lead Division 3 in scoring, but the Wildcats are giving up too many of their own, as a 6-4 win over WNEC and a 5-3 loss at Nichols attest.

7. Salem State (9-5-2, 6-2-2 MASCAC)

Nick Lampson (Groton, Mass.) had a hat trick in the first two periods of Saturday’s 6-6 tie with Westfield State. Unfortunately, the Owls scored four unanswered goals in the time it took him to do it.

8. UMass-Dartmouth (10-5-1, 6-3-1 MASCAC)

Corsairs took a couple knocks, from Salem State and Fitchburg State, sandwiched around a 5-3 win at Westfield State that saw top guns Rob Dudley (Douglas, Mass.) and Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.) each record a goal and two assists.

9. Plymouth State (9-5-2, 6-2-2 MASCAC)

Panthers are just 1-3-2 since the start of the new year, and get a chance to reassert themselves this week with a pair of road games against teams above .500 in the league — UMass-Dartmouth and Fitchburg State.

10. Curry (8-7-1, 6-0 ECAC Northeast)

Colonels’ 4-2 win over Wentworth Saturday was not only crucial, snapping a seven-game winless streak behind a goal and three assists from Ian DeLong, but also kept them unbeaten in the conference.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.