Salisbury wins 4th title in program history
Evan Smith (17) led Salisbury's celebration in its fourth straight Stuart/Corkery championship. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)
It might seem to a casual observer that Salisbury School coasted to its second consecutive Stuart/Corkery championship. After all, the Crimson Knights lost just one game all season, and the loss came against a Kent squad that was in the midst of a 14-game win streak.
But with a target on its backs this year as the defending New England champion, Salisbury fought to prove it is still the best by winning gritty games all season long. The Crimson Knights won all 11 one-goal games they played in and remained undefeated in eight overtime games to earn their 24-1-4 record.
It seemed fitting, then, that Salisbury required overtime in this year’s Stuart/Corkery title game to top Gunnery, 3-2, and capture Salisbury’s fourth tournament championship in program history.
Senior captain Evan Smith netted the game-winner for the Crimson Knights with 2:41 left in overtime, and while late overtime goals normally result from odd bounces, Smith’s game-winner was the result of a beautiful passing play. Smith’s twin brother Mitchell collected the puck after a flurry of Gunnery chances in the Salisbury zone and led a 3-on-2 down the ice with Evan and senior Derek Barach. Evan passed to Barach when he entered the offensive zone, and Barach fed it back to Evan, who one-timed it into an empty side of the net from the lower right circle.
“It was an excellent prep school hockey game where we had two of the top teams playing their best hockey of the season and it required overtime to decide it,” said Salisbury coach Andrew Will. “It’s hard to script a better championship game. Evan scored the first goal, and that Mitch and Derek were involved in the goal being scored was only fitting given how important those guys have been to our team over the course of the season and the success that we were able to have.”
The win over Gunnery in the championship game also was a perfect way to end the season, considering a win over Gunnery earlier in the year seemed to serve as a turning point for the Crimson Knights. In the middle of January, Salisbury was mired in an 0-1-3 slump when it suited up for a game against the Highlanders. Salisbury came from behind twice in the game to send the game into overtime, where — just like in the championship game — Evan Smith played the hero when he scored the game-winner on a power play 59 seconds into the extra frame. That win over Gunnery was the first of 15-game win streak to close out the season for Salisbury.
“They had the target on their backs all season long in terms of being the defending champions and the high expectations that went along with that,” Will said. “They’ve always been able to work through that pressure and saw it as an opportunity to do something special, and the guys had shown that throughout the season. It really speaks to the leadership in our locker room and the focus that our guys have demonstrated all year long to really just stick to the things that we need to do to have success. It was great for them to see that pay off and I was really excited for them.”