In one of prep hockey’s greatest rivalries Avon vs. Salisbury; two of the most storied hockey programs rich with tradition and success, met in the Elite 8 semi-finals for a matchup between #2 and #3 seeds. “Any time Salisbury plays Avon it’s a big game but with it being the Elite 8 Semi-Final just all the more important,” said Salisbury Head Coach Andrew Will.
After losing to Avon just 10 days prior 3-0; Will knew what he was up against. “We have a lot of respect for Avon, especially their speed and tenacity. Our game plan was to get puck behind their defense and limit their chances in the transition game.”
The first period was scoreless without a single penalty. Both teams exchanged a few quality scoring chances but couldn’t finish; the best coming at the 8:33 mark when Avon’s Tabor Heaslip attacked the zone with speed on a 2v0 and make a nifty juke move and dished cross slot to Timur Alishlalov and Salisbury netminder Nick Haas extended to make the big save.
The second period looked much the same until the 12:18 mark when both teams got some power play time before Avon took a penalty to send Salisbury on a 5v3 for 1:10. Salisbury had several grade A chances in particular a when senior defenseman Jarod Crespo made a quick pass to the Lucas Mercuri beside the net who made a quick dish to Dean Bauchiero in the slot for a one-timer that Avon goalie Callaghan made the pad save. Avon was able to kill off the 5v3 and carried the momentum through the middle of the period.
Salisbury would go to the box again when Matthew DeBoer lunged at an Avon forward breaking the puck out of the zone and hauled him down. The Winged Beavers had a few chances but the best scoring chance came from Salisbury on the kill when Cole Vallese picked off a pass in the neutral zone and made a quick feed up to Lucas Mercuri who pulled up, made a deke and then gave it back to Vallese but the backchecker was able to break it up before he could get a good stick on it. Avon took the puck up ice and set up and just as the penalty was expiring Timur Alishlalov got a puck in the slot and scored on a quick catch and shoot to beat Hass clean to go up 1-0 with 3:34 remaining in the period. The Crimson Knights showed no panic and took the play to Avon after the score and drew a penalty with 1:57 remaining on a check in front of the net on a Salisbury player without the puck. Salisbury would score on the power play at the buzzer by Tommy Rooney coming down on the rush off a pass from Lucas Mercuri.
The period ended with the goal and Avon was asking if the puck went in before the buzzer while the Knights were celebrating and the refs met for a minute or so and decided it was a goal. The teams headed to the locker room all tied up 1-1 with a period to play.
Avon would strike first just over 5 minutes into the period when Gentry Shamburger buried a long range rebound in the slot. The Knights would yet again respond when Lucas Mercuri scored a heavy stick goal in the slot. The Winged Beavers would respond less than a minute later when JP Turner carried the puck with speed through the neutral zone made a toe pull and rocketed a snap shot clean over the goalies glove to take the 3-2 lead.
Salisbury put a lot of pressure on Avon in the final minutes and got an offensive zone faceoff with 2:29 remaining in the period which prompted Salisbury Head Coach Andrew Will to take the timeout and pull the goalie.
Salisbury won the draw worked it over to Crespo who took a heavy-one timer which was blocked by Avon forward when Jake Quillan won the 50/50 puck in the slot and took a stride to the net and fired a low quick snap shot goal which went under the pad to tie the game with 2:12 remaining. The period would end in a 3-3 tie and go to overtime.
“Going into overtime we just told our guys that we were playing to win. We were not going to be on our heels; we were going to play on our toes, get every puck to the net and take short shifts.”
The overtime didn’t last long as Salisbury would score early when Lucas Mercuri won an offensive zone faceoff clean to Matthew DeBoer who made a quick move across top circle and fired a rocket snap shot top corner to punch their ticket to the Elite 8 Championships.
Interviewing Coach Will at the end of the game we asked how he explains their 3-0 comeback to KUA and their comebacks today against Avon, never having a lead throughout the game.
“I think it speaks to the character we have in that locker room. We have kids who believe in themselves and believe in each other and at no point was their panic that we wouldn’t win.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1st Star: Lucas Mercuri, Salisbury
2nd Star: Jake Quillan, Salisbury
3rd Star: Matthew DeBoer, Salisbury
-Avon played hard and had several chances to extend leads but just could finish off some drives, they were fast and proved to be great in the transition game. They were explosive, their defense was big and mobile and forwards could separate and make opponents miss. Tough way to end a great season but arguably the best team in the league (despite the loss here tonight).
-Salisbury had a balanced attack and was able to utilize their depth, size and strength to stay in the game and win 50/50 puck battles all over the ice. They weren’t as fast as Avon but they were disciplined and wore them down a bit as the game went on.
-Michael Fairfax was not in the lineup out with illness and Coach Will confirmed he will not be in the lineup against Dexter.
–Lucas Mercuri and Jake Quillan have been the leaders for Salisbury all season and they were the difference in this game just as they were in the KUA comeback game. They make plays in key moments and, at times, put their team on their backs to win. Really impressed with their games here tonight. These are two kids we have scouted since they were playing midget hockey in Quebec, we’ve seen them show this leadership and clutch play in prep school, at USA Nationals with Yale Bulldogs U18 and now here in Elite 8 playoffs two games in-a-row.
-Salisbury will faceoff against Dexter; the second time these two teams have faced in the Elite 8 finals with Salisbury getting the win. Some history here between these squads as Andrew Will, Salisbury Head Coach, replaced Dan Donato, Dexter’s Head Coach, at Salisbury.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images