By Anna Meusel
Cairns Arena’s bleachers stood packed with purple and gold on Saturday while St. Michael’s students, staff, and faculty pressed against the home rink’s glass to cheer on the Men’s Ice Hockey team as they hosted the NE10 Championship Semifinal and had a 6-5 overtime win over Assumption College.
The team is in the midst of their second consecutive bid for the NE10 Championship. The playoff game marked the team’s ninth NE10 Championship run in the last 11 years as the Purple Knights look to take home the hardware in Saturday’s title game against rival St. Anselm’s College.
“This team is the best team we’ve had in my four years here,” said Eric Salzillo ’18, captain of the team. “Guys are competing hard in practice and it translates to the games. The chemistry on this year’s team is awesome, and both of our goalies have come up big for us.”
Missing the first-place pick in the NE10 Preseason Coaches’ Poll by only one vote after last year’s 9-16-2 season, the team anticipated having an appearance in the NE10 Championship for a second year in a row. The 2016-2017 team featured a majority of seniors that helped lead the team to their playoff run. With 14 veterans back for the 2017-2018 season, this year’s team was predicted to place second in the conference and went on to do just that, finishing the regular season with a 14-9-2 record.
“Last year, we had nine seniors, so we knew what kind of team we had coming into the season,” said Sam D’Antuono ’19, a captain who scored the winning goal in Saturday’s game. “Coming into this year, we knew that we were going to have a whole new look to our team. With 12 new guys on the roster, it was going to take a little longer finding our identity and fitting guys into certain roles,”D’Antuono said.
“While every team every year is different, these two are extremely different,” said Damian DiGiulian, head coach of the program. “This new group of players have really brought a great energy to the program, and our upperclassmen have done a super job in showing them the culture we have created here. It has been a really fun team to coach all year.”
The team is on the hunt for redemption in this year’s championship after making it into overtime last year only to lose by one goal to Assumption. After downing the same team in this year’s semifinal, D’Antuono looks forward to winning the title game this time around.
“As a team, we feel like we have some unfinished business to handle,” D’Antuono said.
The Purple Knights do not limit their successes to the ice. In 2016-2017, the team posted the highest men’s sports team GPA, Salzillo said. One goalie made four appearances as NE10 Goalie of the Week, two players were chosen as NE10 Players of the Week, four were selected as NE10 Rookie of the Week, and 12 were named to the NE10 Weekly Honor Rolls. The team makes sure to make headlines for their hard work as both students and athletes.
“We have some of the hardest working guys when it comes to hockey and academics—guys who are really dialed in and want this team to be successful,” said Jake Myers ’19, team manager. “I think that is an ideal that has always been fostered in the locker room and will continue to grow for years to come.”
In order to breed that success, the team works hard off-ice to shape the team as a program and individuals, DiGiulian said. This includes reading a book over the summer and discussing it as a team in the fall to start their year. This year, DiGiulian said, it was “Bear Town” by Frederik Backman.
“We talk a lot about how we want to treat people around campus, how we want to engage in the community, how we want to be successful academically,” DiGiulian said.
The Purple Knights will face off for the NE10 Championship game on Saturday at St. Anselm’s home rink.
“Winning the championship is all that matters for us,” Salzillo said. “Any time we win, it’s exciting,” DiGiulian said. “Is that Bill Belichick enough for you?”