Backstrom’s hat-trick heroics send WSU to MASCAC semifinal

Daniel Backstrom fires the game-winning goal into the back of the net for Westfield State. (DAVE CASPOLE PHOTO / WESTFIELD STATE UNIVERSITY SPORTS)

WESTFIELD – Westfield State senior Daniel Backstrom (Helsinki, Finland) wrapped out a hat-trick, including the game-winner with ten seconds left to complete the comeback, as the Owls’ hockey team defeated Salem State University 3-2 in a Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) quarterfinal matchup on Saturday night at Amelia Park.
Backstrom’s tally was his third goal in 15 minutes, as he led the Owl comeback from a 2-0 deficit at the start of the third period.
Westfield State now advances in the MASCAC tournament to play Plymouth State in the MASCAC semifinals Tuesday.
Last season, Salem State ended the Owls’ hopes of a championship in an upset at Amelia Park. This year’s Vikings were looking to do the same, and looked poised to do so early on.
The Vikings got off to a quick start thanks to a goal from Luca Ragosta (Smithfield, R. I.) only 1:49 into the contest. Ragosta took a feed from junior Landon Hasenfuss (Hanover, Mass.) and found himself wide open in the slot. He then blasted a wrister by Owl goaltender Thierry Messervier (Montreal, Quebec) who had no chance of stopping it, giving Salem the early 1-0 lead.
A little over ten minutes later, Ragosta struck again off a rebound chance in front to put the Vikings up by two. Ragosta found a loose puck following a shot from Cam Ryan (Arlington, Mass.) and poked it through the scrum in front for the 2-0 advantage.
The Owls had chances of their own, including a couple of point-blank opportunities in front, but senior netminder Sean Cleary (Barnstable, Mass.) stood his ground and stopped all nine Westfield shots in the period.
The second period featured no goals, but a plethora of scoring chances for the host Owls.
Westfield State gained momentum after an early powerplay gave them a couple of prime scoring chances. After the powerplay, the Owls posted 20 more shots on goal in the period, but were continuously denied by the likes of Cleary and several Viking defensemen diving to save pucks in the crease.
The Owls took the momentum into the third period where again they poured shot after shot on Cleary until Backstrom finally broke through five minutes in. Sophomore Justin Alves (Woburn, Mass.) won the faceoff to Senior Captain Francois-Xavier Girard (St. Lazare, Quebec) who fired a shot from the top of the circle right on Cleary. The rebound squirted out right to Backstrom’s stick to which he flipped it over Cleary’s pad to cut the Viking lead in half, 2-1.
It wouldn’t take long for the game to be knotted at two, as Backstrom tallied again five minutes later. Girard held the puck at the Salem blue line on a 3-on-2 rush and fed Justin Alves who took the wide route to the net outside the Salem defense. Alves’ late burst of speed created a mini 2-on-1 where he slid the puck over to Backstrom who one-timed it into the back of the net and went crashing into the goal in the process.
From there the Owls took control of the game and spent the majority of the remaining time in the Vikings defensive end.
Just when it looked like this game would go to overtime, Backstrom struck again for that hat-trick in dramatic fashion with ten seconds remaining. Again it was Girard who fed Alves on the half-wall coming up the ice, and again Alves’ speed led to another Owls’ 2-on-1. As time continued to wind down, Alves deked around the Viking defender and attempted to slide the puck to Backstrom. Backstrom fanned on the initial attempt, but threw on the brakes and tremendously chipped a backhander over a sprawled-out Cleary to put the Owls on top 3-2.
Backstrom’s third goal marked his first collegiate hat-trick, and seventh game-winning goal of the Finlandian’s career.
There was nothing doing in the final ten seconds, giving the Owls the 3-2 victory and berth in the MASCAC semifinals.
It was an all-out attack from the second period on for Westfield State, as they outshot the Vikings 51-34. Messervier finished with 32 saves on the evening, doing most of his work early on. Cleary finished with 48 saves for Salem in a truly terrific effort in net.
The loss brings an end to Salem State’s season. The Vikings finish with an overall record of 4-15-7 and a 4-10-5 mark in the league.
Westfield State will move on to face Plymouth State in a MASCAC semifinal matchup scheduled for Tues., March 3.
For news updates and schedule changes throughout the MASCAC tournament, follow along at – Courtesy of Westfield State University Sports

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