SALEM — For the first time in 19 seasons, they’re headed back.
The Salem State University hockey team scored five unanswered goals to win the MASCAC championship Saturday with a 5-1 victory over visiting Plymouth State before a large crowd at the Rockett Arena. The win gives the Vikings their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994-95.
Salem State dominated play after falling behind early in the first period as sophomore Chris Mastropietro of Revere couldn’t have picked a better time to get the first hat trick of his college career. He earned tournament MVP for his efforts.
“I told the kids to take a deep breath and play our game,” said Salem State coach Billy O’Neill. His team won its first conference title since 2010 (when a bid to the NCAAs wasn’t automatic and SSU didn’t receive one). “Both teams had close checking and both goalies (Ryan Sutliffe for Salem and Gordon Ceasar for Plymouth) made some really good saves early.”
A small change made all the difference in the world for Salem Sate (16-9-2). Freshman Alex Minter of Peabody (goal, assist on Saturday) suggested he move to left wing and his linemate, Mastropietro, go over to the right side.
“(Friday) in practice we switched after Alex thought it might be a good idea,” said Mastropietro. “It worked for both of us.”
The Vikings learned their NCAA opponent Sunday night.
“Going to the NCAAs is so exciting. We don’t care who we play; there are a lot of very good teams out there. We have it in us to keep it going, because we have a great group of guys who always back each other up,” said Mastropietro.
The line of freshman John Needham between Mastropietro and Minter was the best combination Salem State put on the ice, winding up with six points between them.