By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM — They’re back in the conference title game — and hoping to reach the big dance for the first time in two decades.
A pair of third period goals from freshman Brandon Platt and defenseman Gabriel Cromp enabled the Salem State hockey team to knock off Framingham State, 3-1, before a large crowd at the Rockett Arena last night.
“We played well defensively and got stronger at the end,” said Salem State head coach Billy O’Neill. “Their goalie was very good; he didn’t give up any rebounds or second chances and they played well (defensively) in front of him. But our team had some power play chances and were finally able to capitalize.”
Platt snapped a 1-1 tie with 8:57 left in regulation, scoring with assists from Mark Macdonald and Ian Canty. Cromp scored his second goal of the night six minutes later with his team on a 5-on-3 power play situation, with his blast from the point.
Salem State (15-9-2) will host Plymouth State, a 3-2 winner last night over Westfield State (14-10-2), for the MASCAC championship Saturday back at the Rockett Arena (2 p.m.). The winner gets an automatic berth into the NCAA Division 3 hockey tournament, which Salem State hasn’t played in since the 1994-95 season.
“We beat them twice and tied them once, so I expected another close game,” said O’Neill. “That’s the way it is in this league; you have to play 60 minutes. You need to get good goaltending, special teams ... it’s all so important in games like this. And you have to stay out of the penalty box; you can’t score from there.”
This will mark the Vikings’ fourth trip to the league title game in the five years it has existed. Their last MASCAC crown came in 2010. Salem State fell to Plymouth State in the MASCAC final in both 2011 and 2012, with each setback coming in overtime.
The top-seeded Salem State outshot the Rams, 37-14. Senior Ryan Sutliffe was sharp in goal for the Vikings to earn the win.
The visitors jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Eric Ward made a nice move to score on the power play at 6:50 of the opening period, with Ryan McDonald assisting. But Salem State tied it up four minutes later when Cromp, a sophomore defenseman from Montreal, buried a shot just inside the blue line, beating goaltender Nick Cafrelli. Fellow blueliner Cam Barnwell (who finished with 2 assists), as well as senior forward T.J. Hermans, assisted on Cromp’s tally.
“Cromp has a big shot and he’s been working hard at it lately,” said O’Neill.
Salem State had the better of the scoring chances in the second period, but Cafrelli kept them at bay. He had several big stops in the middle stanza, including denying of both Viking forwards Alex Minter and Andrew Bettencourt. The Vikings couldn’t convert on either of their two power play chances in the period, either.
“We played very good defensively and capitalized in the third period,” said senior forward Eric Defelice, who assisted on Cromp’s second goal. “Our line (with Pratt and Macdonald) has been together the last 5-6 games and we’re working really well together. We got a lot of chances.”
Framingham State, the No. 4 seed in the MASCAC playoffs, ended its season at 11-10-4.