Salisbury, Conn. – In the last two seasons, Dexter and Salisbury have met in the Elite Eight playoffs. Last year they met in the first round, where Dexter won at home, and the year before they met in the finals, where Salisbury won. This marked Dan Donato’s first time back to Salisbury since leaving the school in 2007 to take over Dexter’s hockey and baseball programs. Salisbury continued its dominance though, defeating Dexter 3-1.
With the win, Salisbury clinched a berth to the Elite Eight final against Kimball Union. The Knights are aiming for back-to-back championships for the first time since 2016, when they won three in a row.
Salisbury came out strong from the first shift of the game and had two quality scoring chances. But Dexter goalie Derek Mullahy (Scituate, MA/Harvard) kept Salisbury out of the net, a common theme from the first period. The Knights got on the board when UConn recruit Arsenii Smekhov scored off an angle on a quick-release wrister low stick side that just snuck past Mullahy. Dexter’s only real scoring chance in the first period came when John Farinacci (Chatham, NJ) caused a Salisbury turnover, got the puck in the slot and took a snap shot off the post.
“We left some goals on the ice that first period, but we talked in the intermission about staying focused and keep getting pucks in deep and going to work,” Salisbury head coach Andrew Will said. “Credit to Mullahy. He made some big stops there and kept the game tight.”
Both teams earned chances in the second period. Dexter’s Jack Rathbone (West Roxbury, MA) and Salisbury’s Peter DIliberatore (Bedford, NS), two of the best defenders in prep, went head-to-head and broke pucks out to create scoring chances. Dexter used its speed and puck-moving ability to stretch Salisbury, while the Knights got the puck past the Dexter defense and won battles along the boards.
“We talked a lot about getting pucks in deep and using or strength and our depth to win battles along the wall and being difficult to play against,” Will said. “I thought we did a really good job of that and putting pressure on their defensemen on the forecheck to limit easy rushes up the ice.”
The first power play of the game occurred at the 11:21 mark in the second period. Dexter almost scored twice, but Salisbury senior goalie Bryan McGrath made some big saves while seniors like Jacques Bouquot (South Windsor, CT) got sticks in lanes and blocked shots.
With 3:17 left in the second, Chase McInnins (Hingham, MA/Northeastern) took a cross-checkings checking penalty in the offensive zone to give Salisbury its first power play of the game. It took less than a minute for the Knights to capitalize when Nick Capone (East Haven, CT) got a pass in the slot for a quick catch-and-shoot goal to extend the lead to 2-0.
“Between the second and third period, we talked to our guys about playing to win and not for the clock to run out,” Will said. “We wanted to play on our toes and continue to attack and not sit back and protect the lead.”
A minute and a half into the third, Bouquot extended the lead to 3-0 on a wrister off a backdoor feed from Nick Hale (Cary, NC/Holy Cross). With 5:36 left in regulation, Dexter earned a power play when Salisbury defenseman Luke Krys (Ridgefield, CT) was called for a slashing. Just 37 seconds later, Salisbury was whistled for another penalty, giving Dexter a 5-on-3. A minute into the two-man advantage, Jack Rathbone scored on bullet one timer to cut the deficit to 3-1. Dexter created chances, but McGrath kept Dexter out of the net with some saves, including a post-to-post glove save.
“I thought the team played hard and disciplined, and our goaltender made some big saves for us down the stretch,” Will said. “I thought our seniors really stepped it up, especially Bouquot who played like a captain tonight. He blocked shots, he scored a key goal for us and he was the forward we put out to kill the 5-on-3.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1st Star: Jacques Bouquot, G, Salisbury
2nd Star: Bryan McGrath, G, Salisbury
3rd Star: Derek Mullahy, G, Dexter