Top-ranked and reigning NCAA Division III champion Salisbury is awaiting word on whether starting defenseman Aaron Leeds will have to serve a one-game suspension and sit out Saturday's game in the Capital Athletic Conference's tournament semifinal.
The Owings Mills resident and Boys' Latin graduate was assessed a three-minute penalty for an illegal body check and ejected in the fourth quarter of Friday night's 11-10 overtime loss at No. 11 Cabrini. The ejection automatically invokes a one-game suspension.
The infraction proved costly as the Cavaliers scored three consecutive man-up goals in a span of 1 minute, 32 seconds to turn a 9-7 deficit into a 10-9 lead. Although the Sea Gulls (15-1) got a goal from senior attackman Carson Kalama (Bel Air) with 35 seconds left in regulation to send the game into the extra session, they eventually fell and absorbed their first loss in 21 games.
The officials' assessment of Leeds' penalty did not sit well with Salisbury coach Jim Berkman.
"Our hits were no different from their hits, and our kid gets a three-minute penalty and is ejected from the game, and they scored three man-up goals," he said Monday. "Their kid hits our kid earlier in the game and gets a one-minute penalty for the exact same hit. … I've never heard of it. And it wasn't anything flagrant other than he had two hands on his stick and he hit the kid like a normal kid does. It was out of the blue. The game was over. We would have won the game. So it was really frustrating to be on the road and be put in that situation."
If the one-game suspension is upheld, 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior Pax Howard – who has 24 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers – has been the fourth defenseman all season and would be poised to start for Leeds.
"Pax is a senior and played in the championship game last year," Berkman said. "So it's not like he hasn't played. He's played in big games before. I think he'll do fine. Good players answer the bell."
Leeds, 6-1 and 195 pounds, might not get as much attention as fellow starters and 2016 second-team All America juniors Will Nowesnick and Kyle Tucker. But Leeds ranks second on the Sea Gulls (15-1) – who absorbed their first loss in 21 games – in caused turnovers with 24 and is tied for third in ground balls with 46.
"Obviously, we'd much rather play with Aaron than not, but it's the next man up, and that's what a good program does," Berkman said. "They have a guy waiting in the wings, and the guys rally around him to make up for his absence. That's what a good team does and a good program does."