By Ray Biggs
Managing Editor, D3hockey.com
UTICA, N.Y. --After letting a two goal lead disappear in an NCAA semifinal game, most coaches would feel the need to provide some lengthy motivational lecture before a win-or-go-home overtime. Mike McShane decided the best thing to say, would be almost nothing at all in that regard with the score knotted at four against Adrian.
"I just said it doesn't matter anymore," McShane said of his team's cushion going up in smoke. "The only thing that matters is what's in the future. The only thing that matters is the next 20 minutes we've got. That's all we have control over. We didn't even talk about it. We just talked about what we were going to do for systems, put lines together and talked about doing a good job."
He was on to something, as the Cadets were able to get enough of a pushback following a dominant third period by Adrian to advance. At 11:40 of overtime, Connor Evangelista teed off from the point, and the shot caromed off a body on the interior and landed near Ian Williams at the right circle. Williams angled a wrist shot that couldn't be corralled by Kevin Entmaa, and the inertia carried it into the cage to give the Norwich Cadets (26-1-3) a 5-4 win over Adrian(20-7-2) and a spot in Saturday's national championship game against Trinity (21-6-3).
The win puts Norwich in their first NCAA title game since a win in 2010, and was a program record 24th consecutive game without a loss for the Cadets, who passed their 2000 national championship team to claim the top spot on that list.
The Cadets displayed the form that had propelled them on that streak seemingly off the opening draw, as their trademark skating ability enabled them to dictate the terms of engagement for over 10 minutes by a vast margin. The team speed that the Cadets brought to the table was unprecedented relative to any of Adrian's prior opponents, according to Bulldog head coach Adam Krug.
"I think we had a period of feeling things out against a team we've never played before, a team that has skating like I don't think we've ever seen before," Krug said. "St. Norbert, Stevens Point… those teams don't even skate like that, and I think that got us on our heels a little bit."
That Cadet pressure and speed attack led to the Easterners pulling ahead first after fending off a net front flurry from the Bulldogs. Off the transition to the offensive, top gun William Pelletier showed the skill set that has made him so dynamic all year long. At 14:53, Ian Williams laid the puck onto the tape of Pelletier, who cut towards the middle away from the left wing boards and zipped a high, heavy wrister past Entmaa to puff the net and grab a 1-0 lead.
Despite a sluggish start, the Bulldogs would get an almost immediate response on the board before the period ended, and they did so with the net front presence that is a strong part of their game. After an in-zone faceoff win by Mathew Thompson, the puck was reined in and sent across to Michael Hoy, who had the initial shot bump off a skate. A seemingly harmless backhand built on that groundwork, as Austin Rust whipped the puck towards the net, and Bryan Yim made enough contact to snake it through the five hole on goaltender Braden Ostepchuk to get the Bulldogs on the board.
A late holding penalty to Todd Jackson almost cost the Cadets a second one, as Adrian's 2-1-2 power play attack produced dynamic pressure for the final 49 seconds of the period, but could not convert for a 1-1 score after one period with shots on goal 11-10 Norwich after the gap had closed on a latter half push by the Bulldogs.
With a well-rested group coming out of the intermission, the Cadets eliminated the rest of that advantage. Little did they know that a second successful penalty kill past the midpoint of the second period would pull them ahead, with an effort that made up for the cause of that situation.
After fanning on a power play chance of their own off an Austin Hervey minor, the Cadets were almost immediately put to task on an interference minor to Jake Erickson. Taeron Lewis missed on a one-on-one shorthanded chance late in the ensuing kill, and when the clock hit zero, Erickson was in the perfect spot to attone for his prior infraction and give his team the lead.
|Norwich's Ian Williams zips in over the blue line in their NCAA semifinal win over Adrian. Williams delivered the game winner in overtime to put the Cadets in the title game.
Photo: Jeff Melnik, D3photography.com
At that time, Tyler Piacentini came streaking out of the Norwich zone with the puck up the left wing working one-on-one on Cameron Cooper. The release of Erickson made the play an immediate 2-on-1, and as Cooper shaded over towards Piacentini, Erickson began to barrel towards the net on the penalty box side. Piacentini landed a shot off the defensive pressure that leapt off the pads of Entmaa, and right onto the tape of Erickson as the Cadets won the numbers game on the finish to take a 2-1 advantage.
"I saw the time left on the penalty and then I saw I had a 1-on-1," Piacentini said. "I didn't see Jake was coming up. I kind of just tossed it on net and luckily the rebound was on his stick and he did a great job of putting it home."
The special teams would further influence the ebbs and flows of the game when Adrian's power play returned on a Paul Russell hooking minor at 15:07. The dynamic that had been so threatening for the Bulldogs at the end of the first period returned to haunt the Cadets and re-equalize the score. At 15:55, Kyle Brothers rotated the puck along to Taylor McCloy, who unselfishly made the extra pass to the left wing circle, where Thompson was waiting. After the initial shot was brushed away, Thompson regathered and knocked it past Ostepchuk to square the game.
"It's a play that Brothers, McCloy and I have worked on for a while," Thompson said. "We noticed teams started to hone in on McCloy when he pops up like that so a couple weeks ago we gave it a try and we've had success with it. Before the faceoff, we decided he was going to slide it over."
Still, the Cadets would find a way to exit the period with the inside line headed to the final twenty minutes, and it was Erickson landing another for his first career multi-goal game. With Entmaa's vision obstructed by net front traffic, Erickson launched a point wrister that had eyes to pull the Cadets back in front, 3-2, with just over 90 seconds left in the period.
A postgame question about Erickson's second goal and his history of scoring multiple times sparked a playful exchange at the press conference later that night.
"I've never done that," Erickson said, to which McShane replied, "He's been saving them."
With a one goal advantage to start the third, 20 goal scorer Kevin Salvucci didn't save anything for later. Off a botched Bulldog breakout, the puck bounced across to Salvucci at the circle, and he canned it to give the Cadets the first multi-goal lead for any team on the weekend. The goal was registered as unassisted for the member of the school's Corps of ROTC Cadets.
With the Bulldogs down by two, Thompson said there was little doubt in his team's ability to rally in the pentultimate regulation frame.
"We've been in situations like this before and we've never really doubted our offensive ability," Thompson said. "From coach on down, everyone was telling each other to stick with it, get our heavy game back and everything is going to rely on second efforts. Everyone bought in and we got a bit of momentum. When the first one went in, everyone's shoulders relaxed and got the legs back so it all just stemmed from that."
That confidence was well-placed by the Bulldog captain, as Adrian began to fire on all cylinders and establish their offensive tempo, while limiting the Cadets to hardly any sustainable offensive zone pressure. It took some time, but that operating procedure would eventually pay off on the game's final power play. After a barrage of power play one timers, the Bulldogs got the bounce they were looking for to halve the lead. At 14:23, Trevor Boyd redirected a point one-timer by Joey Colatarci to make that happen.
One more was still needed to tie, and Colatarci had brought enough to share at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Friday. Off a Norwich rush that was thwarted when Todd Jackson's stick was lifted on a center feed, Bryan Yim slipped to the low side has he carried the zone. The thirteenth forward on the line chart circled back behind the net quickly, leaving the Cadets staring at the puck carrier's path. That bought time for Colatarci to slip in virtually undetected as the blue liner activated into open space, and ripped a one-timer off a Yim feed to send the game to the extra session at 15:47.
There were eight combined shots in an overtime period that was decidedly more balanced after the lopsided third, with Norwich steadying the affair after another early push by the Bulldogs. Williams landed the one shot that counted at 11:40 as the ninth goal of the year by the winger paved the road to Utica a bit further into championship Saturday.
Braeden Ostepchuk turned in a 32 save effort to pick up the victory, while Kevin Entmaa was handed the loss after stopping 24 of 29.
For the Bulldogs, their tenth season won't result in a national championship, but head coach Adam Krug was nonetheless proud of his team's resolve to rally in the thriller and the overall season outcome they achieved.
"It was probably a great game for the fans to watch," Krug said. "Obviously didn't go our way and we're extremely disappointed in the outcome, but we're extremely proud of our players. The resiliency to come back from two goals down, that was impressive. And then we get into overtime and we feel like we have a lot of momentum, but unfortunately it just didn't go our way."
As for the Cadets, they have a Saturday Night date with Trinity for the right to claim the Division III game's biggest prize, the NCAA National Championship. While they'll prepare for the Bantams in full on Saturday, the Cadet coach wants his team to take care of the basics to start that process after a hard fought game.
"I'll tell them to get a good night's sleep, and don't stay up playing cards," McShane said. "Don't go calling your girlfriend. If you're going to call your girlfriend, call her on the bus ride home. This is a very important thing in your life and you'll never forget it, so just keep it in perspective."