SALEM — The clock had just passed 10:30 p.m. when Jake Pappalardo left the ice and headed towards the Salem Icenter locker room following a tough late-night practice. But the evening was far from over for the Blue Devils’ budding star.
“Midterms are coming up so I have to go home and study,” said Pappalardo, who has a 3.9 GPA on a 4.0 scale. “I’ll probably get to bed around 12:30 (a.m.). I’m tired, but there’s plenty of time to sleep after the season. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
With Pappalardo leading a red-hot top line, the Salem High hockey team has made the rink a thrilling place this season.
Just a sophomore, Pappalardo has emerged as one of the most exciting players in the region with 11 goals as the Blue Devils have surged to an 8-2-1 record, their best start since the 2007-08 season, and their 7-1-1 league mark is tops in New Hampshire Division 1
“Jake is a very dynamic player,” said Salem coach Mark McGinn. “He has really elevated his game and has become an all-around threat this season. He can score, but it isn’t just goals. He does everything to make the kids on the team better.”
Pappalardo has shown his all-around abilities with a team-high 21 points as the center for the line of three sophomores that has been unstoppable for in New Hampshire this season, scoring 28 goals.
“We knew this could possibly be a (special) season,” said Pappalardo. “When coach puts me out there I know I have to perform. I want to set the tone for the game, and do what is needed of me.”
Pappalardo began to emerge as a freshman last season, scoring eight goals. But his real breakout was a two-goal performance in a Division 1 quarterfinal loss to Manchester Memorial.
“That performance really got my confidence up,” he said. “It really ended the season on a good note. I just wish we could have won the game.”
Pappalardo then set his eyes on preparing for his sophomore campaign, and his work did not go unnoticed.
“He worked his butt off on the ice and in the weight room because he was dedicated to getting better,” said McGinn. “I’ve known Jake since he was young, because his brother played with my son. I have watched him grow up over the past seven years. He has matured, become a great player and despite only being a sophomore has really taken on a leadership role.”
After being blanked in their its game of this season by Bishop Guertin, Salem hit its stride in the second game of the season, rallying for a 7-2 victory over Londonderry, the Lancers’ loss lose of the season.
Since then, the Blue Devils had dropped just one more contest, to defending Super 8 semifinalist and the No. 1-ranked team in Eagle-Tribune area, Central Catholic in the Blue Devil Holiday Tourney.
Despite falling to Central, Pappalardo — who scored the lone Salem goal in the 4-1 loss — felt the performance against the Raiders was a breakthrough.
“If we can play with Central Catholic than I feel like we can certainly play with anyone in our league,” he said. “I have a few friends on that team I play with in the fall and to score against them really showed me my hard work was paying off. That was a big boost for my confidence.”
Through 12 games Pappalardo has scored 11 goals — one behind linemate Cody Soucy for the team-high — including a hat trick in a victory over Nashua South and two scores in a tie with Coventry (R.I.). Of his team-best 10 assists, none was bigger than setting up the game-winning goal against defending Division 1 state champion Pinkerton.
But there’s one aspect of the game that the center enjoys almost as much as scoring goals.
“Sometimes in big situations coach will look at me and say, ‘Get out there and win this faceoff,” said Pappalardo, who has won 145 of the 230 draws he has taken this season. “Faceoffs are a huge part of the game. Sometimes, when it’s in a crucial situation, it’s almost like scoring a goal.”
Pappalardo is just one third of the Salem top forward line, composed entirely of sophomores, which is emerging as one of the elite of the region.
The center is the lynchpin of the attack which includes wingers Soucy (12-6—18) and Kyle Svenson (5-7—12).
“This is our second year together and we are getting better and better the more we play together,” said Pappalardo.
“Soucy plays to my left and really knows how to put the puck in the net. Svenson is on my left and he just does it all.”
The three have accounted for 28 of the 41 goals Salem has scored this season.
“They all bring something a little different to the ice and it just works,” said McGinn. “Soucy is finally putting his chances away, Jake is probably a little stronger and Sveny may be small, but he has jets and brings that little extra energy.”
Andover goalie Colby Gilbert wowed the Mass. high school hockey world on Feb. 18 of last season when he made 24 saves to blank archrival Central Catholic, knocking the Raiders from an automatic bid in the Super 8 tournament. But, would you believe, he listed his 4-1 loss to the Raiders earlier that season as the moment he truly felt like a varsity starter.
“I felt like that first matchup was a real turning point for me,” said Gilbert, who made 39 saves that day. “Central is such a big rival, and going into that game knowing I was going to get the start really solidified the position for me. It showed the coach trusted me.”
Gilbert and his Golden Warriors (4-4-1) will renew their rivalry with Central (7-2-1) tomorrow at 3:20 p.m. at the Valley Forum in Lawrence.
Pinkerton hockey got back on track with a 4-3 win over Bishop Guertin, led by two goals by sophomore Giovanni Corsetto and three assists for senior Dominic Corsetto.
That the brothers led the victory is nothing new for the Astros. Giovanni leads the team in goals with eight while Dominic is right behind with seven and leads the team in total points with 20.
That was Giovanni’s third two-goal game of the season.
Games to watch
1. Andover vs. Central Catholic, Saturday, 3:20 p.m., Lawrence Valley Forum
The Raiders are on top again, ranking No. 5 in the state by MassHSHockey.com.
They are also out for some revenge, as Andover upset them 3-0 late in the regular season a season ago.
The Golden Warriors have some confidence thanks to that win, and Colby Gilbert has been a rock in net.
2. St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Pinkerton, Saturday, 4 p.m., Hooksett Ice Den
The defending Division 1 champion Astors are trying to get back on track, and a victory over St. Thomas (5-2 Division 1), the team right above them in the standings would go a long way.
3. Andover vs. North Andover, Monday, noon, Merrimack College
A win on Saturday could have the Golden Warriors surging into this neighboring rivalry, the first time the two have faced off as MVC opponents.
Both teams have won three straight games.
1. Central Catholic 7-2-1
2. Salem 8-2-1
3. Londonderry 7-1-1
4. Brooks 6-2-1
5. North Andover 6-5
Honorable mention: Whittier/Amesbury (6-4), North Reading (6-3),