There is no Cinderella story in the MASCAC playoffs as the top two teams in the conference – Salem State and Plymouth State – will meet Saturday to decide the MASCAC tournament champion.
The two teams met three times this season and saw the Vikings win twice, including once in overtime 4-3 in the second game of the season. They also defeated the Panthers 3-2 on Jan. 11 while the two teams skated to a 3-3 tie a month ago.
The No. 1-seeded Vikings are 15-9-2 overall (11-5-2 in the MASCAC) and the No. 2 seed Panthers are 14-10-2 overall (11-5-2 in the MASCAC).
Salem State coach Bill O’Neill said the community is excited to be hosting the championship game.
“It’s great for our university to have it here,” O’Neill said. “We got a lot of fans from the North Shore area. There’s a lot of hockey people and a lot of good teams from the North Shore at all the different levels. A lot of that interest will show up here.”
For Plymouth State coach Craig Russell, it will be a tough test Saturday with all the veterans on the Salem State roster.
“I don’t think there’s one or two [players] you can single out,” said Russell. “It’s a different guy every night. We’ve have seen [Eric] Defelice do things against us, we’ve seen [Chad] Goodwin do it, we’ve seen [Chris] Mastropietro do it. They have guys throughout their lineup that can beat you. Even though Ryan Sutliffe’s numbers aren’t great, he’s there for the big save. He’s been their guy for the last three years and he never disappoints in big games”
O’Neill added that he is impressed with Plymouth State’s great depth.
“They have got some very talented players, balanced throughout, similar to what our team is,” O’Neill said. “We’ve got some balance, too. It projects to be a terrific college hockey game.”
Russell said the overtime loss earlier this season was due to the inexperience of his young squad.
“The first loss we had them in overtime, it was an even game, especially the first 60 minutes,” Russell said. “With us switching ends, we had a long change and we got caught, they went down on the rush and Brandon Platt made a nice shot on our goalie [Tyler Ingerson].”
Russell said in the second game, his squad came out flat in the second period and that’s when the Vikings scored twice.
“They are a team you can’t make mistakes against and having the young group we have, with the first two or three months, we are going to mistakes,” Russell said. “Because they got the experience and chemistry, they were able to call us on all of our mistakes. We kind of regrouped a little bit when we tied them. We came back from a two-goal deficit in the third period and we got a lucky bounce at the end of the game.”
According to O’Neill, the three games against the Panthers came down to the goaltending and special teams. The Vikings had three power-play goals in the three games this season.
Russell believes Saturday’s game will be another close one.
For the Panthers to be successful, Russell looks to the Ryan Callahan-Phil Arnone-Baxter Strachan line to be successful. He said the line provides energy and is a defensive line, doing all the little things like blocking shots and winning key faceoffs.
O’Neill said his key players have been carrying the team the last few weeks. They include Defelice, Ian Canty and Sutliffe.