It is every hockey player’s dream.
And Hampden’s Kyle Weiland had the opportunity to live that dream for his Plymouth State College (N.H.) Panthers: scoring a game-winning goal in overtime.
But it wasn’t just an overtime game-winner.
Weiland scored 4:48 into the second overtime on Saturday to beat Salem State 5-4 in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship game and it supplied Plymouth State its first NCAA Division III Tournament berth.
The Panthers, 17-6-3 and riding a nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1), will entertain 20-6-1 Wentworth Institute (Mass.) in a first-round NCAA tournament game on Wednesday with the winner advancing to face Norwich, the nation’s top-ranked team, in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Northfield, Vt.
“It definitely felt rewarding. I was in shock. It was unbelievable for me and for my teammates because we created school history. We did something that had never been done before and that’s pretty special,” said Weiland about his goal. “I had never scored an overtime goal until this year. I’ve luckily scored two of them this season.”
Weiland scored when teammate Chris Mohar’s shot from the point deflected off a Salem State skate “right to my tape (on his stick). I was all alone. I beat the goalie (Ryan Sutliffe) high to the glove side. I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Weiland was named the game’s Most Valuable Player as he also had an assist on an earlier goal. He said the most rewarding aspect was that it was scored in front of a packed house at Plymouth State’s second-year Hanaway Rink.
“The fans have been unbelievable. The turnout and support from the school has been unreal. It was nice to bury the puck for my teammates, the fans and everyone who has been part of the program as well,” said Weiland who added that the new rink is beautiful and its locker rooms are comparable to ones at a Division I arena.
The junior right winger is the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 17 points in 24 games on 10 goals and seven assists. He is tied for second on the team in goals and leads the team in shots on goal with 55. He has three power-play goals and two game-winners.
“He has a pro release on his shot,” said Plymouth State coach Craig Russell. “He’s a guy we have counted on a lot this year, a lot more than last year, and he has definitely stepped up for us.”
Weiland played a year of high school hockey at Hampden Academy and another year at Orono High before spending three seasons with the Portland Junior Pirates and one year with the Bay State Breakers of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
He had four goals and four assists in 16 games last season.
“I pulled a muscle in my lower back and never fully recovered,” explained Weiland who formerly played for WABI-TV hockey analyst Mike Tuell and his Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference youth team and called Tuell “one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”
Weiland had an assist in three games as a freshman before leaving the team after getting “real sick with tonsillitis.”
He came to Plymouth State after he and four other Breaker teammates visited the school, liked it and decided to attend.
“And I don’t regret my decision at all,” said the 23-year-old Weiland. “The school is awesome.”
He said it has been a “good year so far. I’m pretty happy with it.
“I have found a decent role. My game has gotten better and I’ve found a comfort level. I’m on one of the top two lines and I’ve found my way onto the power play,” said the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Weiland.
Russell said Weiland has matured and has “really done well.”
“He has become more of a complete player. He wasn’t concerned with the defensive side of the puck his first two years but he has been better defensively as has the whole team,” said Russell who considers Weiland an important ingredient in this year’s success and added that he has played with a lot more confidence.
O’Neill’s father gets 500th
The Salem State team that Plymouth State eliminated is coached by Bill O’Neill, father of University of Maine senior defenseman and co-captain Will O’Neill.
Bill O’Neill, who is in his 31st year at Salem State, reached the 500-win plateau this season.
He is 503-316-54 at Salem State.
“I’m very proud of him,” said the younger O’Neill.
Andrew O’Neill, Will’s older brother, assists his father.