With just 25 seconds left in the third period, and in command of a 4-1 lead over No. 3 Belmont Hill, the No. 5 Salisbury School boys’ hockey team was ready to begin its celebration of a second consecutive NEPSAC Stuart/Corkery (Open) championship title.
The celebration, however, was muted and put on hold when senior defenseman Dane Westen awkwardly collided with the boards and went down. Trainers assessed Westen for over 10 minutes before EMTs arrived at the rink.
The once raucous crowd at Belmont Hill’s Jordan Athletic Center fell silent as Westen was taken away on a stretcher and transported to Mass. General Hospital.
After the game, Salisbury head coach Andrew Will gave a positive update on Westen.
“He’s got some neck and upper back pain, he’s got no numbness, he’s got full mobility and range of motion,” he said, “I think he’s going to be absolutely fine, but obviously scary.”
The title was Salisbury’s fifth in the last ten years, all coming in Will’s tenure.
“I think it’s a testament to the kids who come to Salisbury,” he said, “They’re obviously really passionate and motivated on the hockey side, but they give it everything they got in all areas.”
Salisbury (23-5-0) came out of the gates firing, scoring two goals in the opening four minutes. Seniors Oliver Frontini and Ryan Walsh both sent wrist shots just under the crossbar to give the Crimson Knights the early cushion.
That cushion wouldn’t last long, as junior Brock Cummings tallied for Belmont Hill (20-3-3) to cut the lead in half with 13 minutes left in the first. Unfortunately, however, that would be the extent of the scoring for the Sextants.
Salisbury senior goaltender Austin McNicholas of Clarence Center, N.Y., shut the door in the final two periods, stopping a total of 23 shots.
Senior Dylan Hryckowian scored on a beautifully executed 2-on-1 late in the second period and Junior Ben Poitras iced the game with an empty-netter with 1:28 remaining. However, it was the steady goalie who was the difference maker for Salisbury.
“In January, we sat down and [McNicholas] said ‘I’m going to carry us’, and he did,” Will said. “Just the poise and composure that he played with today and throughout the playoffs was terrific.”
McNicholas was at his best when it mattered most, making seven saves and helping kill two penalties in the third period.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “This is what you work for all year and for all the dedication we put into this it’s great to see it pay off.”
Kent 4, Brunswick 2 — Senior Cole Watson struck twice to lead the Lions to the NEPSAC Martin/Earl championship win. Classmates Joey Sciabarra and Dante Palombo found the back of the net as well.
Pomfret 4, Frederick Gunn (Conn.) 2 — Captain Nils Forselius opened the scoring, and then netted the game-winner for the Griffins (13-5-4) to take the NEPSAC Piatelli/Simmons championship. Jesse Heinberg scored early and Declan Chapman’s empty-netter put an exclamation on the win.
Division Dorothy Howard (Small)
Rivers 2, New Hampton 0 — Senior captain Kayla Castellucci started the game with a bang, scoring just three minutes in.
Junior forward Stella Mullen added a goal in the third, and senior captain Eve Stone stood on her head in goal, as fifth-seeded Red Wings (17-9-1) took the NEPSAC Dorothy Howard (Small) Championship.
“The momentum for us a lot of times is that big save from Eve that gets the girls going,” said Rivers coach Courtney Sheary. “For her to play the way she did today in her last game as a Red Wing got our girls up and ready to go each and every shift.”
Playing as an underdog in each game of the tournament, Sheary said her team stuck to what it did best.
“Our team grew over the year,” she said. “We started playing as a team and we just went with our system. Got the puck in deep, and hunted in the offensive zone.”
Sheary attributed a lot of the team’s success to their senior class and first-year assistant coach Ryan Bourque, the son of former Bruins Hall-of-Famer Ray Bourque.
“To have the leadership of all nine [seniors] got us where we are today and I’m thankful for all of them,” she said. “[Bourque] has so much experience with hockey, which helped us get to where we are.”
Division Patsy Odden (Large)
BB&N 4, Deerfield 1 — Freshman forward Hannah Weyerhaeuser scored 2 goals and added an assist, and senior forwards Sophia Kennedy and Ashley Hallice each recorded a goal and an assist for the Knights, who win the NEPSAC Patsy Odden (Large) Championship.
“This was probably our best game that we played from start to finish,” said coach Ed Bourget. “This is the culmination for the seniors to get the victory. It was a total team effort and it was for everyone who’s ever played here, and we took that to heart.”
Sophomore goalie Alexsa Caron solidified her case for tournament MVP by allowing just two goals in the tournament, and making 28 saves in the final.
“Her body positioning and the way that she handles the first shot and is able to control the rebounds has a big thing to do with it,” Bourget said. “She has a lot of poise for a sophomore. Over this year, she became really confident in herself as a player.”
Correspondent AJ Traub contributed to this story.