SALEM - Throughout the season, coach Mark McGinn has described his Salem High School hockey team as a blue-collar squad, making the way Saturday's tilt against Londonderry ended all the more fitting.
Jake Pappalardo muscled his way into a scrum in front of the Lancer net and popped in the game-winner with 51 seconds left to round out a hat trick and give the Blue Devils a 5-4 win in Division I action at the Icenter.
"That summarizes how we play," McGinn said. "The puck was there. I could barely see it so I didn't know of they were going to blow the whistle. You keep going until the whistle blows and he just whacked and whacked."
Pappalardo also scored the equalizer to make it 4-4 early in the third on a nifty move in which he beat a defender and then Lancer goalie Joe McGrath (22 saves).
The win coupled with a loss by Manchester Memorial puts Salem atop the Division I standings with a record of 9-2-1. Londonderry falls to 7-4-1.
The Lancers had a great chance to take the lead late in the third with a shorthanded two-on-none.
Curtis Harper blocked a Salem pass at the blue line and broke up the ice with Mike Donlan next to him. Harper ripped a shot, but Salem goalie Nick Phair deflected it high to keep it 4-4 with 4:40 remaining.
"It was gigantic," McGinn said of the save. "Nick let in four today, which is uncharacteristic of him but when we needed him he stood tall and gave us a chance to win."
Then the Blue Devils got their chance when Cody Soucy fired a shot on net. The rebound landed in the crease and as both teams fought to get to it, it was Pappalardo who managed to get his stick on it for the winner with less than a minute to play.
"We were all digging for it," Pappalardo said. "It popped loose and I just tapped it in."
It was the only lead of the game for Salem, which trailed 3-1 early in the second.
Londonderry struck first with a goal by Eric Coburn at 2:50 of the first and held a 2-1 advantage at the first intermission after Salem's Kyle Svenson and the Lancers' Brett Evangelista exchanged goals.
Londonderry then took a 3-1 lead when Coburn scored a power-play goal, his second of the game, just 19 seconds into the second period.
"I think both teams came out and played very hard," Londonderry coach Peter Bedford said. "It was a well-contested game between the two teams, no doubt."
The two-goal lead didn't last long. Pappalardo scored his first of the game on the power play less than two minutes later to make it 3-2 and Paul Antkowiak tied it up 3-3 with 6:13 left in the second.
Harper scored a power-play goal with 30 seconds left in the period to give the Lancers a 4-3 edge, then Pappalardo rounded out his hat trick in the third.