By Dan Harrison
---- — SALEM — Salem State men’s hockey coach Bill O’Neill has been impressed with the play from netminder Ryan Sutliffe this year, claiming the junior hasn’t cost the Vikings any wins this season.
In Saturday’s 5-3 win over the University of Southern Maine Sutliffe’s big, breakaway save on Brad McGovern didn’t just prevent a loss but actually may have won his team the game.
Locked in a 2-2 tie in the opening minute of the third period, McGovern finished serving a too many men penalty and snuck behind the SSU defense where he took a pass and bore down alone on Suttlife (31saves). The Vikings goaltender slammed the doors and less than a minute later, Chad Goodwin swatted home a bouncing rebound off Andrew Bettencourt’s shot to give SSU (6-4-1) the lead for good.
“How big was that (save)? You need goaltending. It’s such a key, and he has played solid for us. He hasn’t beaten us in any games,” explained O’Neill. “It’s a game of momentum. We took turns with the momentum. They took parts of that game and we were fortunate that we were able to score when we did. It was good win; we’ll take this.”
The visiting Huskies (5-7-0) took an early lead off a howitzer of a slapshot from Danvers native Troy Thibodeau. After a SSU turnover in the neutral zone, Thibodeau uncorked a shot from the top of the right circle that banked off the left post and in. Kristofer Faric evened the game for SSU when he took a quick, turn-around snap shot that surprised Huskies goalie Patrick Farrington.
That pace carried into the second period before SSU took over for good in the third. After Goodwin’s game-winner Matt Kenline stole the puck in the neutral zone and beat Farrington low blocker side before Goodwin finished off a breakaway with a nice high backhand to put the Vikings up 5-2.
“I thought the key point was when they (Salem State) stopped our breakaway to start the third (period) and then they came down and scored on their very next shot,” explained Southern Maine head coach Jeff Beaney, who also talked about Thibodeau’s impact this season.
“He is a local boy down here and he has been good for us all year now as a junior. He’s showed a lot of leadership and has seven or eight goals for us. (With that goal) he got us going a little bit.”
Thibodeau also made an impression on the home team’s skipper.
“Troy is quite a player,” said O’Neill. “He scored that first goal where he took a bomb of a slap shot going down the wing. He just powered it into the net.”
Thibodeau wasn’t the only local player who had an impact in the game. SSU freshman and Peabody native Andrew Bucci, who didn’t play any minutes at the beginning of the season, made the start at right wing on the Vikings top line alongside veteran teammates Kyle Phelan and Eric Defelice. Bucci also worked with the first power-play unit and even scored some time on the penalty kill showing he’s capable and willing to take on the responsibilities of an experienced player.
“At the start of the season I didn’t play until the third game when coach (O’Neill) put me in. I try to work hard in practice. My practices were basically my games because I wasn’t playing. I just tried to work hard, I got my shot and I’ve been trying to work with that,” said Bucci. “It helps when my teammates are Defilice and Phelan on my line. They have experience. This is our third our fourth gamer together and we’re starting to get more experience playing together.”
Garret White scored for USM in the second period, but not before Bucci etched his name into the scoring sheet. After some nice work in the offensive zone by SSU’s top line, Bucci held the puck at the top of the left circle and fired a low, hard shot toward the far side of the net. Farrington got his left pad on the puck, but Phelan was there immediately to bang home the rebound. It was all part of the plan.
“I heard the guys on the bench saying throw it to the net and I saw the back door and Phelan coming through,” said Bucci. “So I thought, ‘I’ll try and sneak it low to his pad.’ Luckily, he kicked it out to Phelan perfectly and he just tapped it in.”
Daniel Mattsson scored on the power-play with five minutes left to cut the SSU lead to just two goals.