GOFFSTOWN, N.H. -- Is it too early to start the talk about a fourth consecutive crown?
That is the dilemma facing Salisbury after picking up its third consecutive Stuart/Corkery Elite 8 crown Sunday night. It is a safe to guess, however, that the furthest thing on this team's mind right now is looking ahead to next season. What can be discussed is the dynasty the Crimson Knights have forged.
Salisbury, seeded fifth, was not expected to reach the finals this year, yet they proved the doubters wrong. With the top four seeds having been eliminated, Salisbury found the door ajar enough to bust through. Not only did the Crimson Knights make it to the championship game but took the top prize back to Connecticut with them after disposing of No. 7 seed Dexter, 3-1, inside Saint Anselm College's Thomas F. Sullivan Arena.
"With us, it's all about determination, resiliency and the kids commitment to try and get better every day," said Salisbury head coach Andrew Will. "Our goal always is to try and play our best game in the final one of the season. We've been fortunate that its been for a trophy and that we have ended up on the right side of those games the past three years. The kids who have come through our program deserve all the credit and have done a fantastic job including tonight."
The Crimson Knights (23-4-2) knew they would be in for a battle against a red-hot Dexter team that had gone 13-0-4 in its last 17 games, including a pair of competitive postseason wins over Cushing and The Gunnery. So to combat that, it was important for Salisbury to get on top early and stay there.
At 2:10 of the first period, the Crimson Knights followed that script perfectly. Cole Poliziani, off a behind the net pass from Jordan Kaplan, stuffed in a shot past Dexter goaltender Nick Lanni for a 1-0 advantage.
Ironically, that would be the only scoring until the final period as both teams flexed their muscles, knocking each other around all over the ice. Dexter continued to be frustrated by Salisbury's solid defensive corps of Brett Stirling, Quincy Gregg, James Goebetz, Dayne Finnson, Ray Seebeck and Nathan Ellis who all performed admirably in holding down the fort once Dexter crossed into the attacking zone. They, along with the help of the forwards, continued to intercept passes, block shots, push skaters off their lanes and move the puck away from senior goaltender Bailey MacBurnie, who finished with 14 saves.
"I think our team speed was an asset for us," said Will, who played his college hockey at Union. "But also our depth. We have a deep team. We are not a team of superstars but a team from top to bottom is very strong. We also have an outstanding goaltender who made some big saves when we needed him to."
With nothing resolved during the middle frame, Salisbury re-discovered its offense midway through the third. Kaplan, a junior from Bridgewater, NJ, picked Luke McInnis' pocket at the center line and skated in alone on Lanni (27 stops) beating the senior for a 2-0 lead at 7:19.
"Salisbury was big and strong," said Dexter head coach Dan Donato, who served as Salisbury's head coach for six seasons before taking over the reins at Dexter in 2008. "I thought they were good in the corners. We knew we would have to play our best game and I thought we played OK but not as good as we had hoped. A lot of that had to do with Salisbury being a very good team. We didn't really have a lot of traffic in front of (MacBurnie) so he didn't have to fight it all that much. That was because of them being a little bigger and stronger than us. I'm really proud of our guys. If you told me we would be playing for the Elite 8 title two months ago I probably wouldn't have believed you. Our kids have so much to be proud of."
Three minutes after Kaplan's tally, with the Crimson Knights on the power play, Finnson fired a shot from the left dot through traffic that eluded Lanni's catching glove, putting Salisbury ahead by three goals.
"It was a big confidence boost to get that second goal and then getting the third one to put the game away," Kaplan said. "When it comes down to crunch time this team really steps up. We all just rally behind Bailey who has been great all year for us. He makes the saves he has to and we just build off of that which helps us to succeed."
Whatever Dexter tried to do seemed overshadowed by the strong play of the Crimson Knights. But to Dexter's credit, it didn't go down without a fight. With under five minutes left, Harvard-bound and Boston Bruins draft pick Ryan Donato, with his team in the midst of a 5 on 3 power play, rifled a shot past MacBurnie to finally get his team on the board. Even with a handful of minutes remaining to creep back into this one, Salisbury would have none of it. The Crimson Knights shored up their defense and limited Dexter to just a couple of mild chances down the stretch, with MacBurnie holding down the back end for added security.
"We started back in September and we have all worked so hard to get here," said MacBurnie, the former St. Mary's of Lynn standout. "Everyone on this team grinded it out all season. We knew if we worked our hardest we could get here. Dexter is a phenomenal, well-coached team so it is just an honor to beat them."