CHAMPS! Mercuri’s 4-Goal Performance Leads Knights
Salisbury Withstands Late Andover Rally to Win Flood-Marr Tourny
Salisbury stormed into the Championship Game of the Flood-Marr Holiday Tournament with successive wins over the #6, #5, and #1-ranked teams in New England in the group stage on Friday and Saturday. How difficult could it be to complete the sweep with a win over the #9-ranked team, Phillips Andover Academy, and claim the winners’ trophy?
For the better part of two periods in Sunday afternoon’s finale in Milton, MA, the answer was “not very,” as the Knights steadily built a 3-0 lead. But the Big Blue proved their mettle and made things a good deal more difficult by drawing to within a goal at 3-2 and then, when Salisbury re-opened a two-goal advantage at 4-2, again cutting the lead to a single goal, 4-3.
The closing minutes seemed to last forever, the shadow of the 2017 Flood-Marr Championship Game seeming to lengthen over the ice surface as Andover battled to tie the game, and Salisbury fought to erase the memory of that 2017 title game, won by Kimball Union Academy; after the Wildcats and Knights had finished group play a year ago with identical 2-0-1 records, including a 2-2 tie between the two teams and a matching 11 goals-scored, a coin flip put KUA into the Championship Game, while Salisbury was relegated to the 3rd-place game, which the Knights won to finish the tournament unbeaten - but with little consolation for their efforts.
The Knight defense on Sunday would not buckle, however, as Salisbury held on for the 4-3 win and, with it, anointment as the 2018 Flood-Marr Champions - a result that seemed inconceivable to most prep hockey followers ten days ago, when the Knights dropped two straight games, giving up 15 goals in the process, to drop from the top-ten rankings in the New England prep polls. Since then, the Knights have won six straight games, outscoring opponents 27-8 over that span.
“We were tremendously proud of the boys and their resiliency,” head coach Andrew Will commented after celebrating his team’s success. “While our results leading up to the tournament were inconsistent,” Will continued, “that wasn’t a huge surprise, given the large number of players new to our team. We still have a lot of work ahead of us,” cautioned Will, “but the tournament-win was an encouraging boost to our confidence and commitment to playing the right way.”
The biggest factor in Salisbury’s celebrating the Flood-Marr title was Lucas Mercuri, who scored all four goals for the Knights, a team ordinarily characterized by balanced offensive distribution on its scoresheets. Not Sunday, however, with Mercuri racking up a hat-trick-and-a-third in the biggest explosion by a Salisbury player in a number of years. For his heroics, Mercuri was named not only the First Star of the Championship Game but also MVP for the Flood-Marr Tournament.
Mercuri scored every which way - including loose. He started by springing loose for a short-handed goal late in the first period with 3:25 left before the first intermission. Just 1:59 into period two, with the two teams at even-strength, Mercuri took a pass from Clay Korpi and drove it past Andover goalie Charlie Archer (34 saves) for a 2-0 lead. Less than three minutes later, with Salisbury now on the power play, Nick Capone set up Mercuri for his third goal of the game.
The Big Blue finally solved Salisbury goalie Nicholas Haas (16 saves), breaking through with a power-play conversion of their own at the 10:00 mark, to make it 3-1. Then, 4:49 into the final frame, Andover made good yet again on a power play to narrow the score to 3-2. At 7:59, Mercuri secured another breakaway, this time at even strength, and outwitted Archer to push the lead to 4-2.
But back came Andover. With Archer on the bench in favor of a sixth skater and over three minutes still showing on the clock, Salisbury incurred a penalty to give the Big Blue a six-on-four advantage. With 2:43 left in regulation, Andover capitalized, and it was back to a one-goal game, 4-3. The last, tension-filled minutes passed, however, with the Knights making their final defensive stand to complete their tournament title-run unbeaten - for the second consecutive year, but this time with a championship crown to wear for their efforts.
- Procter Smith