Courtesy Norwich Athletics --
NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The No. 1 nationally-ranked Norwich University men's ice hockey team downed Salem State 3-1 on Saturday at Kreitzberg Arena in NCAA Division III Tournament First Round action.
Norwich (24-1-3) extended its unbeaten streak to 22 straight games with the victory and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals where it will host Hamilton College on Saturday, March 18 at Kreitzberg Arena.
The Cadets got goals from Tyler Piacentini, Christian Thompson and Payton Baldillez, while junior goalie Braeden Ostepchuk made 22 saves.
Norwich will now make its seventh NCAA Tournament Quarterfinal round appearance in the last eight seasons and the Cadets are now three wins away from securing the program's fourth national championship.
Piacentini scored at the 4:12 mark of the first period, beating Salem State goalie Jason Pucciarelli with a wrist shot into the top left corner of the net and over the blocker for his 15th goal of the season. Cody Smith and William Pelletier picked up the assists on the power play goal. The assist was Smith's 30th of the season, leaving him just three shy of Bill Nash's '86 single-season record of 33 assists for a defenseman.
Salem State (15-10-3) controlled the action for large portions of the second period, but Ostepchuk was brilliant between the pipes making four saves in a span of two minutes, including a breakaway stop on John Needham to stymie the Vikings' offense.
Norwich carried the 1-0 lead into the second intermission despite Salem State controlling the second period.
The Cadets got a big insurance goal at the 8:36 mark of the third period with Thompson scoring his third goal of the season and first since Jan. 13. He beat Pucciarelli five-hole with a slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle off a 2-on-1 rush with Austin Surowiec. Taeron Lewis started the play with crushing check in front of the NU bench that sprung Surowiec on the break up ice.
NU increased the lead to 3-0 at the 14:04 mark of the third period with Baldillez scoring off assists from Anthony Flaherty and Nick Pichette for his fourth goal of the season.
Salem State got one goal back at the 18:47 mark with a pretty back hand into the top left corner of the net by Casey Miller off a rebound on an initial shot by Mackenzie Cook.
Pucciarelli finished with 25 saves for Salem State, while Ostepchuk had 22 for Norwich to improve to 15-0-0 on the season.
Salem State was making its third NCAA Tournament appearance in the last four seasons after winning the MASCAC title in 2014, 2016 and 2017. The Vikings also had their season come to a close at Kreitzberg Arena in 2014 after NU beat Salem State 8-2 in the first round as well.
In other NCAA Tournament First Round action; Endicott defeated Hobart 4-3, Hamilton beat Oswego State 3-1 and Trinity beat Plattsburgh State 4-1. Endicott will face Trinity next Saturday, while St. Norbert meets Augsburg and Wis. Stevens Point faces Adrian.