By Dan Harrison
---- — SALEM — With a very big two points at stake, the Salem boys hockey team could have relied on goalie senior Brett Harring and simply sat on its one-goal lead over Swampscott headed into the third period yesterday.
Instead, the Witches kept the pressure on the Big Blue throughout the final frame, increasing their lead in an eventual 3-1 victory.
“We had to win the third period. That was the best period we’ve played all season,” said Salem (3-5-1) head coach Ted Hanley. “We cut it to two lines and told the boys they’d have to find their lungs. And it worked.”
Swampscott carried the momentum for most of the first two periods, but Harring was on top of his game and turned away all 25 shots he faced in that time frame.
Late in the second period with the Big Blue defense pressing hard at the opposing blue line, Salem’s Sam Petri was able to get behind everyone in the neutral zone. Eli Spector fired a pass to Petri, who cleverly played it up to his stick with his skates as he entered the Swampscott zone before making a nice move to his backhand for the goal to give Salem a 1-0 lead.
The Witches headed to the locker room with a one-goal lead as Swampscott couldn’t find a way to beat Harring despite some quality opportunities.
“I thought Brett had an unbelievable game,” said Big Blue (1-8-1) coach Gino Faia. “We had some golden opportunities, and he came up big every time.
“We’re struggling to finish and put the puck in the net. Once again the effort was there; we just didn’t get the result.”
Salem made it 2-0 early in the third period after a strong rush by one of its top forwards, Danny Heck. After a cross ice pass from Eamon Williamson, Heck went across the blue line going to his left and fired a low, hard wrist shot that banked off the left post and into the back of the net.
Salem did a good job of passing in the neutral zone to set up its first two goals.
“We worked on that specifically in practice this week. (The Big Blue) hang a guy and play for offensive chances, so we had a couple of practices with that in mind,” noted Hanley.
“Danny is our guy. We’d like to see him get going because he can put the puck in the net. He’s one of our top offensive guys.”
Adam Ngo made it 3-0 when he banged home a rebound after a strong rush by Petri, who showed great patience holding the puck down the right side until he got to the goal line. Petri fired the puck toward the goal, where it deflected off Swampscott goalie Tyler Gallagher and right to Ngo, who pounced on the opportunity.
The Big Blue scored just minutes later to break the shutout when Mike Johnson found fellow freshman Louis Olivieri for a one-timer in the slot. It was the only shot to beat Harring (33 saves in all), who made a handful of big stops on the penalty kill.
As a unit, the Witches were perfect on the penalty kill and have become a strong team when down a man.
Salem will need to continue to play its best hockey now that a .500 record is just within the Witches’ grasp.
“We’re hoping to go 2-0 this week to even up our record. We’ve got Revere again (this Saturday) and we have to play our game,” explained Hanley. “Our second half schedule is not that bad. I think we can gobble up some points.”