SALEM, N.H. — They were never completely off the radar. But their light wasn’t blinking especially bright at midseason.
Salisbury School players now know there are reasons that prep hockey seasons are 30 games, and not just 15 or 18. One is to break in a bunch of new players — 15 in all — and get everyone on the same page. Another is to become battle-hardened, so that when the big games arrive in March, they’re ready for them.
The Scarlet Knights are New England elite champions for the first time since 2009, after beating Founders League rival Kent School, 4-1, in the championship game of the Stuart/Corkery tournament at the Icenter last month.
Liam McDermott scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period on a 5-on-3, Mitchell Smith added a pair of insurance markers in the third and Salisbury got to charge goalie Callum Booth (23 saves) when it was over, a title run that picked up steam at midseason and just kept going.
It also avenged semifinal losses in this tournament to Kent (in 2011) and Lawrence Academy (in 2012).
“Words really can’t describe it,” said senior defenseman Mark Hamilton, “especially for me and a couple others on the team. It was our third time in a row.”
The Knights (21-5-3) were unbeaten in their last 12 games. Seeded sixth, they upset No. 3 Berkshire, 3-2, on an overtime goal by defenseman Will Toffey; they followed that up with another OT victory, 4-3 over Westminster, when Evan Smith buried a shot from the right wing.
“Prior to the playoffs, I think we’d been in five overtime games and gone undefeated in those,” said Salisbury coach Andrew Will. “We’d had a number of one-goal games. We were having trouble scoring goals but we were getting good goaltending and playing good team defense. We were confident in close, low-scoring games.”
Even with so many new faces at the start, defense was a constant. Four players have committed to Division 1 programs, and two of them — Hamilton (UMass-Amherst) and Ryan Segalla (UConn) — share the top pairing on the blue line.
“We’ve been playing together since we were little kids,” said Hamilton, who is from Winthrop, Mass. “We play really good together. I’m more of a defensive player; he can be more offensive and we both like to be physical.”
Seniors Willie Brooks and Aaron Titcomb also were key players on defense, helping ease the transition of the new guys.
“There were a lot of new guys and they were getting used to playing at the prep school level,” said Segalla, who is from Rockland, Mass. “But we had a lot of meetings throughout the year. Everyone wanted the same goals.”
By the second half, the Knights knew they were good enough to achieve them, even if teams like Kimball Union, Belmont Hill and Berkshire sported gaudier records. It was that quarterfinal win at Berkshire that got the run moving into high gear, and it didn’t stop until the championship was secured.
“Our coach came into the locker room before the Berkshire game and told us a story,” said Hamilton. “The moral of the story was, ‘Winners know that they’re going to win.’ That’s what we kept saying.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.