Photo courtesy of Salem StateAs most high school and college athletic traditionally teams do during the final home game of the season, Salem State University’ s men’s ice hockey team celebrated Senior Night last night at Richard A. Rockett Ice Arena.
But the team also recognized another accomplishment during a special ceremony before the 7-2 victory against Worcester State: Head coach Bill O’Neill’s 500th victory. O’Neil’s 500th victory came on Saturday afternoon after Salem State defeated the Rams of Framingham State 8-2 at Rockett Arena.
“Tonight will be an emotional night in a lot of ways,” O’Neil said during a telephone interview before the game yesterday. “It’s our last regular season home game, the seniors will be honored tonight. It’s going to be Think Pink tonight [for breast cancer awareness] so it will be emotional on the team and in the building with that.
“And with this ceremony before the game there will be a lot of emotion. It will be welcomed. It will be something that will mean a lot to me and the players and our fans and ultimately we’ll play and we’re looking forward to that.”
The Danvers native who started coaching the team in 1981 when he was 25-years-old is now the fifth active coach, and just the seventh all-time in NCAA Division III history to reach 500 wins. O'Neill, who during his 31 season as head coach of the Vikings has led Salem State to two NCAA Final Four appearances, has compiled an overall record of 501-310-54.
This season Salem State is 14-8-3 overall and is headed to the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference playoffs. O’Neil, who played for St. John’s Prep and won a national championship with Boston University in 1978, was stuck on 499 career wins for two games as the Vikings lost two contest in a row by one goal before finally getting back in the W column on Saturday.
“I’m glad it’s over,” O’Neil said. “Again, we’re just trying to continue and move forward like any team would. We had a couple of shots at it we missed at Salem and the past Thursday night we missed at West field State; two crucial games that really had a lot of meaning in our playoff position. “You win, you lose and you move on to next one and do the best can."
Saturday’s win also secured second place in their league standings.
“I’m just proud and honored to be coaching at Salem State University,” O’Neil said. “It’s a privilege to coach so many young men over the years, including my son Andrew who is my assistant coach this year and my brother John who played for me earlier in the 80s.”
Justin A. Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.