Stevens named tournament MVP as Panthers move on to NCAAs
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Top-seeded Plymouth State University blanked sixth-seeded Salem State University, 3-0, to claim the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) men's ice hockey tournament championship in front of a sold out crowd Saturday night at Hanaway Rink.
With the win, Plymouth State earns the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Men's Ice Hockey Tournament for the third time in program history. The Panthers will learn their first round opponent when the NCAA reveals the field during its selection show on NCAA.com on Monday (Mar. 4) at 10:30 a.m.
PSU improves to 17-7-3 while topping the Vikings for the fourth time this season. Salem State has its Cinderella run through the MASCAC Tournament come to an end. The Vikings (10-17-1) had knocked off third-seeded University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and second-seed Westfield State University to advance to their eighth title game in nine years.
Senior Ryan Stevens (Colleyville, Texas) scored the game-winner in the final minute of the opening period and added a second period assist to collect tournament Most Valuable Player honors. The 6-3 forward notched a goal and four assists in the Panthers' two playoff wins.
The Panthers stormed out of the gates, outshooting the Vikings by a 21-6 margin in the opening ten minutes to set the early tone. Stevens broke free in the final minute of the period, then put a move on Salem State junior goalie Sean Cleary (Barnstable, Mass.) to give PSU a lead it would not relinquish. Senior Michael Covach (Shillington, Pa.) added a second period goal and sophomore Henrik Axelson (Danderyd, Sweden) put the game away with his tally with just over three minutes to play.
Senior Matt Volonnino (Hackettstown, N.J.) picked up an assist on PSU's first goal to record his 100th career point to become the 13th player in program history to reach the milestone, while classmate Evan Morelli (Reading, Mass.) made 17 saves to record his program-record ninth career shutout.
The Final Score:
Plymouth State 3, Salem State 0
Plymouth State (17-7-3)
Salem State (10-17-1)
How it Happened:
* Plymouth State dominated the opening period and nearly got on the board at the 6:42 mark when sophomore Peter Laviolette (Nashville, Tenn.) gained possession near the right faceoff circle, skated into the slot and fired a wrist shot at the far post that went just wide.
* The Panthers maintained offensive zone pressure during a power play opportunity blasting Cleary with ten shots, but he was able to keep the game scoreless.
* PSU broke through in the final minute when sophomore JR Barone (West Chester, Pa.) flipped a pass from inside the Panthers' blue line to senior Ryan Stevens (Colleyville, Texas), who had snuck behind the Vikings' defense. Stevens skated in alone, faked left and went to the backhand to wrap the puck around Cleary with just 51 seconds left in the frame.
* Salem State countered with zone pressure during a power play chance in the second period, but Morelli stood tall between the pipes to preserve the lead.
* The Panthers doubled their lead with a power play strike at the 10:07 mark of the middle stanza when Stevens made a pass from behind the Salem goal to Covach in the slot, who banged it into the bottom left corner.
* PSU almost made it a three-goal lead in the final minute when freshman Simon Besner (North Lancaster, Ont.) dangled around a defender and snapped off a wrist shot headed for the top right corner, but Cleary gloved it out of the air.
* The teams both came up empty on breakaway chances in the third period. A PSU turnover lead to a 1-0 chance for Vikings' freshman Bret Parker (Hanover, Mass.) but his shot whistled wide of the net. Plymouth State grabbed the puck and sophomore Brett Backman (Cos Cob, Conn.) streaked in alone, but Cleary was up to the task.
* Salem maintained its best offensive pressure of the game on a power play with just under seven minutes to play, but Morelli stood tall the preserve the shutout.
* Axelson put the game away with an impressive individual effort late in the frame. He played the puck off the boards to himself in the defensive zone, then jumped around a defender to skate in alone, before toe-dragging past Cleary to make it 3-0 with just 3:39 left.
Inside the Numbers:
* Morelli made 17 saves to improve to 15-6-3 on the year while picking up his third shutout of the season, giving him the program record with nine career blankings.
* Cleary was outstanding for the Vikings, amassing 47 saves but falling to 9-15-1.
* The Panthers went 1-for-5 on the power play, while Salem was held scoreless in five chances.
* The two teams have met in six of the last eight championship games, with each team winning three times.
* PSU has topped Salem State for all three of its MASCAC Tournament titles. Plymouth State last won the title in the 2014-15 season, and also advanced to the NCAA tournament in the 2011-12 season.
* The Panthers outscored Salem State by a 20-6 margin across their four meetings this season.
Straight From the Coach's Mouth:
"I thought the guys were super-focused and ready to go," said head coach Craig Russell. "It's tough to manage the energy in that building with a crowd like that for the first time all season, but they did a good job with that. The team played a strong two-way game and special teams were lights out. We talked a lot about that before the game and felt it was crucial that we won that battle and we did with a power play goal and a number of short-handed chances. They guys executed our game plan and this time of the year that's all you can ask for. I'm so incredibly happy for the senior class to finally get one."
* Plymouth State claims the MASCAC title and advances to the NCAA Division III Men's Ice Hockey Tournament, while Salem State's season comes to an end. The Panthers will learn their first round opponent during the NCAA.com selection show, which airs Monday (Mar. 4) at 10:30 a.m.
|PSU captains with MASCAC Commissioner Angela Baumann||Tournament MVP Ryan Stevens with Baumann||2019 MASCAC Tournament Champions|
– 30 –