By Jean DePlacido
---- — SALEM — It was important for the Salem State hockey team to bounce back with a strong performance Saturday after losing a heartbreaker at Frozen Fenway earlier in the week.
The Vikings put that incredible experience behind them and got down to business, defeating Plymouth State, 3-2 at the Rockett Arena.
A pair of goals in the middle period got the job done for Salem State (8-5 overall, 5-2 in MASCAC play) after a first period that was marred by penalties. The hosts held the Panthers to just five shots on goal in the second frame while scoring twice to take a lead they’d never relinquish.
Captain Kyle Phelan tipped in the rebound of a shot by freshman defenseman Jacob Strzalkowski at the 6:47 mark, giving SSU a 2-1 lead. Freshman first liner Alex Minter of Peabody also picked up an assist on the goal.
Minter also assisted on what proved to be the winning goal by freshman John Needham midway through the period, with Phelan earning the other helper.
“It wasn’t hard to get back on track after that game at Fenway because we have two great captains (Phelan and Ian Canty),” said Minter, who played high school hockey at both Malden Catholic and Governors Academy before going to the Boston Junior Rangers in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League prior to coming to Salem State. “That was something none of us will ever forget. As long as we can stay out of the penalty box, teams can’t play with us and we’ll go a long way.
“I love Salem State and I’m having a ton of fun this year,” added Minter, who has eight assists. “I look forward to coming to the rink every day.”
The visitors got on the board first on a power play goal by Chad Barthelmess, but just over three minutes later Salem State tied it up on Eric Defelice’s man-up goal.
The Vikings dominated play after a fairly even first period, but despite outshooting the Panthers by a 38-19 margin the game wasn’t decided until the final buzzer sounded.
“We put a lot of shots on the net (40), but Plymouth is a very good team,” said Vikings coach Bill O’Neill. “Shots don’t mean a lot if you don’t put some of them in the net, and we were lucky to get a couple in the middle period because they came right back.”
The Vikings had three seconds remaining to kill off a penalty when the Panthers struck to make it a one-goal game. Mike Freitag picked up a loose puck in front of the Vikings net with goalie Ryan Sutliffe out of position and fired it into the empty right side of the net 57 seconds into the final frame.
“That power play goal changed everything, and the rest of the way we had to work hard to hold onto that one-goal lead,” said O’Neill. “I thought we did a good job moving the puck and getting decent forechecking going.”
The Vikings had a great chance to pick up an insurance goal with four minutes remaining when Brandon Platt’s pass across the crease just missed connecting with Chris Mastropietro. The Panthers called a timeout with two minutes remaining and tried to pull goalie Gordon Ceasar (37 saves) for an extra skater, but couldn’t do it until the final 53 seconds. Kristofer Faric had two good chances to knot it up, but one shot went over the net and the other was wide with seconds remaining.
“When they pulled the goalie for an extra man, we had to win the draw and did that a couple of times in our zone,” said O’Neill. “That was definitely a key to the win.”