GLOUCESTER — Even though ther are three games left in the regular season, Salem High hockey coach Ted Hanley considered last night’s game against Rockport a must-win for his team.
Hanley got his wish as his team rolled to 4-0 victory over the Vikings, which ensured the Witches a spot in the Division 3 North state tournament for the first time in seven years.
“This was the game we had to get, there’s no doubt about it,” explained Hanley. “We had an open netter (win) against Somerville, but besides that we hadn’t scored in the past three games. To be able to break through and finally get those goals, it’s definitely a great feeling.
“It was like we just won the Stanley Cup in the locker room; they’re just so excited. We’ve been working since the summer with our off-season training program and most of them showed up for it. Clinching a playoff berth is something we’ve been talking about for a long time. They’re a great group of kids; I’m so happy for them.”
After a scoreless first period, Salem (9-7-2) punched one in as freshman forward Mike Gillis found the back of the net on an assist from senior defenseman Jackson Jennings. Gillis’ goal, his seventh of the season, proved to be the game-winner as senior goalie Brett Harring hung tall in net, pitching his third shutout of the year with 33 saves.
“Brett was unbelievable between the pipes,” added Hanley. “Without him we wouldn’t be anywhere. The last couple of games we could just not score, so it was nice to be able to give him support back there.”
“It’s an absolute amazing feeling to get here,” said Salem senior forward Danny Heck. “We’ve been working hard all year and, after a rocky start with Brett being out (injured), we were able to turn it around and came out flying at the end of the year to finish up strong.”
While Rockport (6-9) outshot the Witches after every frame, Salem made the most of its scoring opportunities — especially in the third period.
Heck got things started 36 seconds into the final stanza, going top shelf from left dot. Junior Sam Petri earned the assist to put the Witches up 2-0.
Less than five minutes later, Salem struck again. Junior Derek Zwiercan fed linemate Jake Quarles in front of the net, who then put it 5-hole between goalie Alex Tognazzi’s legs.
“I wanted the kids to get going after the first two periods,” noted Hanley. “I thought we needed to find our identity, which is a dump-and-dig team. We didn’t do that early on and it showed. In the third period, I had to lose my temper a little bit to get them going. I knew we could come out and do something here if we put the puck in the net.
“Heck took the team on his shoulders at the end of the second period and got really frustrated, in a good way. It kind of carried the team a little bit. Once he got going, I think the rest of the team followed.”
Zwiercan added a goal of his own with 45 seconds left in the game. Cam Twomey and Eli Spector were credited with the assists, their fourth and fifth of the season, respectively.