For Ryan Pappalardo, the opportunity to take the ice in a Salem High hockey jersey remains the culmination of a childhood dream.
Growing up the little brother of high-scoring Eagle-Tribune All-Star Blue Devils Jake Pappalardo and Matt Pappalardo, Ryan’s hockey destiny was always clear.
“From the time Jake was a freshman, and I was 8 years old, I went to all the games and looked up to the players,” said Ryan. “When I was in third grade, I was a devil for Halloween. With a little convincing, (Salem High) coach (Mark) McGinn let me put on my skates and skate around with the team’s flag during warm-ups.
“I guess you could say that I always wanted to be a Blue Devil. And wearing the uniform is a lot more rewarding than being the team mascot.”
Pappalardo isn’t just wearing the uniform of his idols, he’s adding to the family legacy of greatness.
In 11 games so far this winter, the junior center has scored 10 goals and added 12 assists. That after a sophomore season when he became the third brother to earn Eagle-Tribune All-Star honors, finishing second among area athletes with 17 goals.
Behind Pappalardo’s lead, Salem has surged to a to a 7-1-3 record overall this winter, 5-0-3 in New Hampshire Division 1 play. Their only loss came to Belmont (Mass.) in the Blue Devil Christmas Classic. They trail just Concord (9-0-0) in the Division 1 standings.
“Starting the season undefeated has been a great feeling,” said Pappalardo. “It is giving us confidence as well as the drive to defend that record. So many different players are contributing.”
The coach who once allowed Pappalardo to take the ice in his Halloween costume is very happy he traded that ensemble for a hockey sweater.
“Ryan has a high compete level,” said McGinn. “Physically, he is very tough to play against. He is committed to all three zones and quietly leads by example.”
Pappalardo fell in love with hockey, and Salem High, while watching his brothers light the lamp for the Blue Devils.
First was Jake, who spent two seasons (2011-13) playing for Salem. As a sophomore he was an Eagle-Tribune All-Star, scoring 15 goals and adding 16 assists. He then transferred to Proctor Academy.
“Jake has been a great inspiration to me,” said Ryan. “Watching him work hard to in prep school and then Division 1 college has motivated me to play hard. It can be tough sometimes too. Jake can be critical after watching me play. But I’m thankful to have that honest criticism that he delivers.”
Two years later came Matt, who played four seasons for the Blue Devils (2014-18). His best season was as a junior, when he led the region in goals (24) an was named an Eagle-Tribune All-Star.
A year later, senior Matt and freshman Ryan skated on the same line.
“I enjoyed going to Matt’s games (as a middle schooler),” said Ryan, “I watched with the eagerness for my turn. It was great to finally play with Matt my freshman year. I worked hard to play on Matt’s line. We had many great conversations after games.”
COMING INTO HIS OWN
As a freshman, Ryan tallied four goals and was third on the Blue Devils with 12 assists. He also led the team with 283 faceoffs won.
He then broke out last winter, leading the team in goals (16), assists (25) and faceoffs won (437), helping Salem advance to the New Hampshire Division 1 semifinals. He had an assists in the Blue Devils’ upset of top-seeded Pinkerton in the playoffs, and scored a goal in their 4-3 semifinal loss to Trinity.
“The momentum from last year has been fun,” he said. “Then we had success during our preseason games this year and knew then that we could bring last year’s hard work to the ice again. And we knew we had lots of talent back.”
Pappalardo’s best games this winter have been a hat trick in a win over Windham and two-goal performances in victories over Manchester Central/West and Bishop Brady.
“My goal for this season is to make a deep run in the playoffs,” he said. “I hope to accomplish something my brothers never did, win a championship for Salem High School.”