SALEM — The preseason expectations for the Rockport hockey team may have been at an all-time high.
Having lost just one senior from last season’s 13-win team that reached the Division 3 North semifinals, the feeling around the team was clear: A championship trip to the TD Garden or bust.
By the time the Vikings met with coach Derek Papalegis after Saturday’s season-opener against Swampscott, though, those expectations had been tempered.
The Vikings came crashing back down to earth at Salem State’s Rockett Arena, as the Big Blue dictated play from beginning to end and potted three third-period goals to bury the favored Vikings, 4-1.
”I think our guys might be living in the past a little bit, thinking they can just show up and win on talent alone,” Papalegis said. “We haven’t done that in years past. We’re not talented enough to just show up and expect to win.”
Rockport (0-1-0) gained a reputation as a third-period team last season, often starting slow and building as the game wore on.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, Saturday’s third period broke that mold.
Despite a sluggish start and a slew of turnovers, the Vikings entered the third period tied at one thanks to a Jake O’Maley goal late in the second period.
Once the puck dropped for the final stanza, though, it was all Big Blue. Swampscott (1-0-0) pinned Rockport in its defensive zone and piled on three goals in the game’s final ten minutes to seal the win.
First, with 10 minutes to play, Swampscott’s Chris Carmody picked a Rockport defenseman’s pocket at the top of the circles and cut to the center of the ice and lacing a shot past Viking goalie Colby Foster to put the Big Blue up for good.
Later in the period, Carmody struck again to put Swampscott up by two, and by the time defenseman Chris Carman beat Foster (34 saves) on the power play with a sharp-angle bomb, Rockport’s preseason bubble of optimism had, at least temporarily, burst.
The Vikings were outshot, 16-2, in that decisive third period.
”Tie game going into the third period and then we get outshot, 16-2, in the third,” Papalegis said. “It just shows that things got tough and we didn’t rise above it. We went the other way.”
Despite a disappointing showing, the game was Rockport’s to win entering the third period. Foster had kept them in the game, turning away one breakaway and a slew of other golden Big Blue opportunities before Swampscott’s Nunzio Moretti took advantage of a defensive zone turnover by the Vikings and beat Foster to open the game’s scoring with 2:30 left in the second period.
But Rockport responded with a great shift from its top line of Conor Douglass, Mike Tupper and O’Maley resulted in a workmanlike goal for O’Maley just 31 seconds later.
The Vikings were unable to harness that momentum coming out of the second intermission, tough. Swampscott’s sophomore goalie, Trent Gallagher, was rarely challenged, and the Vikings plague of turnovers and lack of defensive zone presence ultimately handed them a season-opening loss.
”We’ve worked on D zone coverage a lot,” Papalegis said. “Too many times our D are coming around the net and just throwing it to nobody or wings are just chipping it right up to their D, and those turnovers kill you because you can’t get out of your zone. We did it a good half-dozen times where we couldn’t get it out of our zone, and we can’t depend on Colby to make stop after stop after stop.
”It’s really on these guys. We have a senior-laden team, and these guys have got to find it in them. As coaches, we can only say so much and they’ve got to look themselves in the mirror. A little adversity might be good for them.”