February 24, 2012

Prep Journal: Dominant defense has Salisbury on a roll

By Mike Zhe

Salisbury School coach Andrew Will feels that defense has been the backbone to his team’s success this winter. 

Salisbury forward Phil Zielonka leads the way with 25 goals for the Crimson Knights. (Photo: Joseph Meehan)

After the Crimson Knights shut out Avon Old Farms, 1-0, to clinch the Founders League title last Saturday, one would be hard-pressed to argue that.

“It starts in our own end,” said Will. “Both of our goalies have played extremely well. But our defensive core, they really dictate the way things go for us. We’ve got a big, strong, mobile group back there.”

Salisbury (22-3-0) has won 12 straight games since a 2-1 loss to Choate on Jan. 16. It’s a cinch to be selected to the eight-team Stuart/Corkery tournament, the field for which will be announced after this week, and get a chance to play for the program’s first New England title since 2008-09.

Anthony DiFruscia scored the only goal in the second period of the win over Avon and Justin Nichols stopped all 21 shots he faced. The Knights followed that up with a 6-3 win over Hotchkiss on Wednesday.

“(Avon) is one of our tough matches,” said defenseman and team captain Marc Biega. “To come out, especially at the end of the season, to come out on top, it means a lot to us.”

Biega, one of the team’s scoring leaders with senior forward Phil Zielonka, is the anchor of a defense that includes senior Nate Bubacy, and juniors Thomas Welsh, Willie Brooks, Mark Hamilton (Winthrop, Mass.) and Ryan Segalla (Rockland, Mass.), in front of solid goaltenders Nichols and Tim Ernst.

Zielonka, who committed to Harvard earlier this month, leads the team with 25 goals. Another key player up front has been senior John Stevens, son of the Los Angeles Kings assistant coach, who centers a top line and plays on all special teams.

“Arguably our most consistent player all yearlong,” said Will. “He does everything for us. He’s a guy we can count on in any situation.”

Biega isn’t just the captain. He’s the voice of experience. Older brothers Michael, Alex and Danny all played at Salisbury before moving on to Harvard, having a hand in New England championships.

“Having brothers that have gone through it, I know it means a lot,” said Biega. “They’ve been telling me not to waste the opportunity. Hopefully, we’ll go all the way like they did.”

New England prep school power rankings

1. Salisbury School (22-3-0). Twelve straight wins for the Crimson Knights, who can wear the label of hottest team in New England.

2. Lawrence Academy (21-3-2). Seventeen-game unbeaten streak (15-0-2) was snapped by a 4-3 loss at St. Sebastian’s on Wednesday.

3. Phillips Exeter (20-2-5). Big Red’s offense was held in check during a 1-1 tie against Pomfret Wednesday, just the second time all season they’ve been held to fewer than three goals.

4. Belmont Hill (21-5-3). No lightweights in this five-game win steak: Thayer, Milton (twice), Nobles and St. Paul’s. Finale is vs. Tabor.

5. Kimball Union (22-4-3). Two losses in three games for KUA after Cushing shut them out last weekend, 2-0.

6. Avon Old Farms (18-6-1). Winged Beavers bounced back from 1-0 loss to Salisbury by pasting Kingswood-Oxford (10-1) and Canterbury (4-0). Sean Deverin had three goals in the wins.

7. Noble and Greenough (19-4-1). Much-needed 5-4 overtime win against Governor’s Wednesday.

8. Berkshire School (16-6-1). Charlie Corcoran had two goals and an assist as Bears got back on winning track Wednesday against Millbrook, 5-4.

9. Gunnery (21-6-1). Marc Cibelli’s game-winner midway through the third period Wednesday kept Gunnery rolling, its 2-1 win over Westminster its third in a row.

10. South Kent (16-8-2). Regular season wraps up Saturday against Hoosac.

11. Choate (15-7-3). Wednesday’s 9-3 pasting of Loomis-Chaffee ended a three-game winless streak.

12. Cushing (18-9-3). Not many teams have beaten Kimball Union this season but Cushing’s topped KUA twice, the latest on Saturday by a 2-0 count.

13. Albany Academy (20-10-0). Cadets have split a pair of overtime games this week, beating Berkshire Monday, 3-2, before falling to Williston-Northampton, 5-4, on Wednesday.

14. Holderness (19-8-2). Team bounced back from Saturday’s 7-1 loss to Tabor with a 3-2 win over Dexter on Wednesday.

15. St. Sebastian’s (13-9-3). St. Seb’s is on four-game unbeaten streak after Wednesday’s 4-3 win over Lawrence Academy.

16. Dexter School (17-9-2). Dexter has only allowed more than three goals once in its last 10 games.

17. St. Paul’s (15-10-0). Losers of three of its last four, St. Paul’s will try to end regular season with an upset of Lawrence Academy on Saturday.

18. Kent School (15-6-3). Boo Nieves and company wrap up the regular season with tough game against Choate Saturday.

19. Westminster (13-9-3). If nothing else, a competitive week for Westminster against a couple of heavyweights, tying Berkshire (3-3) on Saturday before losing to Gunnery, 2-1, on Wednesday.

20. Governor’s (13-11-4). Lucas Bombardier scored a pair of goals but it wasn’t enough for Govs in a 5-4 loss to Nobles on Wednesday.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.