It’s no secret that winning any hockey game in the NEPSAC is tough, but the win-or-go home playoff setup makes for quite a bit of intense drama.
In front of a standing room only crowd at the Dexter Southfield school on Wednesday evening, No. 5 Salisbury used two first period goals, a strong defensive effort and 24 saves from Austin McNicholas to earn a 3-1 road win over No. 4 Dexter Southfield in an Elite 8 Tournament quarterfinal.
Salisbury (21-5) will face top-seeded Kimball Union in the semifinals on Saturday. Dexter Southfield’s season ends at 17-6-3.
“We know how strong and talented Dexter is, so we knew we had to come in and bring our A game tonight,” said Salisbury head coach Andrew Will. “I thought we did that. We played to our strengths and I thought we did a good job of not giving them too many opportunities in transition.
“Fortunately, for us, we also took advantage of some miscues and that’s maybe the biggest thing this time of year, you’ve got to make mistakes hurt.”
With 9:08 left in the first period, Crimson Knights’ senior Dylan Hryckowian stunned every person in the building with a highlight reel goal to set the tone for Salisbury.
Hryckowian picked off a pass near center ice, raced in with the puck on his forehand and proceeded to dangle around two defenders, get Dexter goalie Alex Mickanin to commit one way, then shoved the puck in for the 1-0 lead.
“The D made a step up, so I tried to get out of the way there,” explained Hryckowian. “Got by the first guy, the other guy just stepped up, so I had to make a play and I ended up putting it in. I was pumped up for sure.”
Was it one of the prettiest goals he’s ever had?
“Yeah, I’d say, it was one of my favorite ones I’ve scored, for sure,” he added.
Salisbury took a hooking call with 2:27 left in the first, but 12 seconds after the call, Ryan Walsh was in the right place at the right time when Mickanin and a defender had a miscommunication, turning the puck over and allowing Walsh to bury a shot into the gaping net, making it 2-0.
The second period was a wild affair that saw a Salisbury goal waved off, five penalties called, and two goals.
The Knights had a goal waved off in the first five minutes and Mickanin (25 saves) stopped two different 2-on-1 chances (with a bit of help from a couple quick whistles as the puck trickled behind him) before Salisbury went up 3-0 with 5:34 left.
Ben Poitras streaked up ice along the right wing, left a drop pass for Hryckowian who sent it right back to him as he went below the goal line. The puck seemed to deflect off a defender’s skate as Poitras crashed the net. There was a lengthy discussion by the referees before finally putting the goal up on the board.
Almost immediately after, Dexter finally got on the board when Grayson Badger let a one-time laser go in the slot after a great feed from behind the net from Cullen Emery, sending the teams into the dressing rooms for the third period at 3-1.
In the third, the Knights bottled things up pretty tightly and Dexter struggled to get much zone time. Eventually, Dexter was able to pull the goalie with 42 seconds left but couldn’t muster any true threats.
“In that second period we opened up a bit and that plays to Dexter’s strength,” acknowledged Will. “They’ve got some great speed and their D are looking to get into the play. I didn’t think we managed pucks well and I think we got back to more of our style in the third.”
Each game in the NEPSAC postseason is a grind and Will knows turning the page is never easy, but extremely necessary.
“It’s tough,” Will said. “The emotions are so high and you don’t know what’s coming next. We really try to just stay focused on what’s right in front of us every day. Fortunately, for us, that’s practice tomorrow.”