Hartford, CT – The Sailsbury Crimson Knights made their third straight trip to the Elite 8 and there waiting for them was Dexter School; the team they faced and beat in the 2015 Elite 8 Finals. There is some history between the schools as Dan Donato, Dexter Head Coach, was formerly the Head Coach at Salisbury before taking the job at Dexter and building their hockey program. The Elite 8 Championship is named after Matt Corkery, the longtime coach of Salisbury School who helped hire both coaches at Salisbury.
The game started in Salisbury’s favor as they scored just two minutes into the contest when Massimo Lombardi caught a pass from James Cerepak in the slot and fired it over the goalies shoulder to take the lead. Salisbury took the momentum for the majority of the period until the last five minutes when Dexter dialed it up and had several chances to score but couldn’t finish.
After a 1-0 first period Dexter came out hard and took the play to Salisbury using their speed and skill to their advantage and stretching out the Salisbury attack. However, the Crimson Knights were opportunistic and scored at the 12:03 mark when Dean Bauchiero threw a puck on net and deflected off the opponents skate and went into the net to get the two goal lead.
Dexter rebounded well and fought back leading to several quality scoring chances but Salisbury netminder Nick Haas had his best game of the season and the Salisbury defense was stout and tough to penetrate. Late in the period after Dexter controlled most the play through the middle frame of the period Salisbury struck again when Cole Eichler delayed on a 2v1 and then slid a pass cross slot to Lucas Mercuri who scored on a hard stick net drive one-touch.
With Salisbury having a 3-0 lead going into the third period they played smart, defense first in the third period. They didn’t back off or play on their heels but they were calculated, they were always on the defensive side of the puck, they got pucks in deep and short changes. Dexter showed no quit and threw everything they had at Salisbury including drawing some penalties and creating on the power play but they just couldn’t get inside the Salisbury defense and get those second chance opportunities.
Salisbury would seal the game late in the third period on an empty net goal from Matthew DeBoer for Andrew Will’s fourth New England Prep Championship. He won three in a row between 2013-2015 and has lost in the finals in 2018 and 2019 which means in the past 8 season Salisbury has won four Elite 8 Titles and been in the finals game six of the last eight.
Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Nick Haas, Salisbury
2nd Star: Lucas Mercuri, Salisbury
3rd Star: Dean Bauchiero, Salisbury
It was an exciting game of two constrasting styles; Dexter was faster and more skilled while Salisbury was bigger, stronger and more experienced. Dexter looked great in the transition game and Salisbury looked great winning puck battles and getting to the net.
The two Prep Player of the Year candidates John Fusco and Lucas Mercuri both proved why as they led their teams but there were strong performances by multiple players on both teams. We really liked Bauchiero’s game here, he was physical, he was tough to play against and drove hard to the net. Jarod Crespo and Bayard Hall did a nice job containing Dexter’s speed and moving pucks up ice to their forwards and Cole Vallese brought a skilled, savvy dynamic to the Salisbury attack.
Salisbury earned the win, they were the heavier, tougher team and they won battles in the hard ice and go inside on the Dexter defense which was the difference in the game. Dexter was faster and used the perimeter of the ice to beat Salisbury defenders but struggled to get pucks to the net and get that second wave of pressure for rebounds and loose pucks. Credit to Nick Haas who saved his best game for last and a great way to close out his career at Salisbury. Andrew Will captures his fifth Elite 8 Championship in twelve seasons which is an all-time record in NEPSHIA hockey.
Stick tap to both programs, both coaches and both schools for a great game and a great way to end the prep school hockey season!
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images