Bittersweet. That is really the only word to describe the Salem State Vikings 2011-12 season. Bill O’Neill’s club finished last year with an overall record of 15-9-3, only two points out of first place in the MASCAC. He also had a couple of his players receive MASCAC awards. That is not a bad campaign by any means, and to some other programs, that could even be looked at as successful, but for O’Neill and his Vikings, a championship is the only thing that matters.
Salem State did reach the 2012 MASCAC title game, and were only one goal away from putting together another remarkable year for the program. However, the Vikings fell a goal short, in double-overtime, to the Plymouth State Panthers. Even though O’Neil’s Vikings had a lot to be proud of, not winning the championship overshadows it all.
To make matters more difficult, after losing that heartbreaker to the Panthers, O’Neill learned that his top scorer, Nick Lampson, and standout defenseman, Tom Mahoney, would not be returning to Salem State. To lose a player to graduation is one thing, but two key players with eligibility left is another.
This not the first time O’Neill has had to overcome a bit of adversity. This season will be O’Neill’s 32nd year coaching Salem Sate, a program he took over back in 1981. It is a fair assumption to say he has seen it all.
O’Neill has reached the NCAA D-III Tournament six times at the helm for the Vikings, so he knows what he takes to build a championship quality program. Losing a championship game and some players won’t faze him.
Currently, the Vikings are 2-1-1 on the young season, with their only hiccup against the No. 15 Wentworth Leopards. O’Neill is getting offensive production from two freshman, Chad Goodwin and Andrew Bettencourt, and solid netminding –again– from All-MASCAC Second-Team goalie Ryan Sutliffe.
Like a boxer, a punch to a gut can put you on the mat. Losing in double-overtime for the championship and losing key players could be that right hook to the mid-section for most teams.
Not O’Neill and his Vikings however, as that belt, or title, or championship is the only thing that matters.