By Ray Biggs and Matthew Webb
UTICA, N.Y. -- All season long, Norwich had a three word mantra it lived by: Leave nothing behind. Following a season that stopped short of the NCAA tournament, that message embodied a team that won 27 of the 31 games they played. It was one the team's senior class envisioned and one they brought to Utica for this year's championship weekend.
"They do a good job each and every year but they didn't want to leave anything behind," Norwich head coach Mike McShane said. "We've got a sign that's above the rink as we leave. It says 'Leave Nothing Behind.' We took it down and we brought it with us. It's in the locker room. That's their signature. They were determined not to leave anything behind. I had a good feeling about them all along."
They brought the sign to Utica, but when the time came to bring it to the ice surface the Cadets did exactly that and will leave the championship taking something highly desirable away instead. With Trinity bearing down in the second period, Norwich broke a 1-1 tie with a Todd Jackson goal and kept rolling with three unanswered to pull away, while Ty Reichenbach turned aside 35 of 36 shots as the Cadets claimed the school's fourth NCAA Division III Men's Ice Hockey National Championship with a 4-1 win over the Trinity Bantams at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Saturday night.
An even first period featured multiple swings in momentum, with both teams able to at least partially establish their own competencies five-on-five. The key word is partially. Norwich was able to generate their opportunities off the terrific straight line speed that caught Adrian off guard in the semifinals, and the Bantams were able to get some presence when entering the zone with numbers, but neither team was able to score in the opening 0-0 frame as goaltenders Alex Morin and Reichenbach held strong with a combined 23 saves.
The silence on special teams also enabled the gridlock. A tripping call on Trinity's Sean Orlando at the 6:01 mark of the period gave Norwich its first power play of the night, but the Cadets were unable to get a single shot on goal during the two-minute advantage. Nearly immediately after Orlando got out of the penalty box a long clear by Trinity freed him down the right side and he drew a tripping penalty on Norwich's Anthony Flaherty.
Like the Cadets, however, the Bantams were unable to register a single official shot on their first power play and the opening period rolled on without a strike. Trinity held a slim 12-11 shot edge in the frame.
Norwich finally broke the ice at the 1:38 mark of the second period, and it was thanks to a tremendous individual effort by Nick Pichette. While skating laterally down the Trinity blueline, Pichette gloved down a floating puck, curled through the top of the right side of the Trinity zone, stepped away from the low pressure applied by Trinity's Will Sleeper, and got off a spinning, backhand shot. While Pichette's shot was stopped by Morin, Anthony Flaherty shackled up the rebound and put it into a half open net and the Cadets drew first blood.
Shortly thereafter, a hitting after the whistle minor on Norwich's Peyton Baldillez put the Bantams on their second power play of the game. It didn't take them long to level the score as Tyler Whitney, who assisted three times in the semifinal win, exhibited strong hand-eye coordination to get his first and only goal of the weekend. He did so off a point seam pass setup from Liam Feeney, as he roofed a redirect over the shoulder of Reichenbach to make it 1-1 at the 5:04 mark of the period. Ryan Cole also picked up an assist on the goal on what was the high point of what became a strong second period for the Bantams.
The Cadets, however, still reclaimed the lead at 2-1. It was largely due to a fantastic individual effort, this time on a veteran-esque play by freshman Todd Jackson. While carrying the puck through the right side of the neutral zone, Jackson had the presence of mind to chip it off the wing boards away from the pressuring Liam Feeney, used his top end speed to get back to the puck, and drove in for a clean look from deep in the right circle.
|The Bantams and Cadets battled to a 1-1 deadlock until a Todd Jackson goal at 8:07 of the second period handed Norwich the lead for good.
Photo: Jeff Melnik for d3photography.com
The setup was strong, and the finish was impeccable. Jackson wristed a shot over Morin's left shoulder and into the top corner to swing the advantage back to the Cadets. T.J. Dockery was credited with an assist on the lead pass out to Jackson.
The goal was a welcome disruption for the Cadets, who were otherwise taken out of their comfort zone as Trinity established a furious net front presence with wave, after wave of attack on the Norwich netmouth en route to a 14 shot second period.
"It changed the momentum a little bit," McShane said. "They outplayed us in the second period. They played really well but Ty stood on his head. That goal just lifted us a little bit. We go into the third, we're up 2-1, and we don't think we're playing well. The coaches are meeting. We're saying 'if we keep this up, they're going to score three or four goals.' We made some changes and we shifted the lines around at the beginning of the third. They found energy. We talk about emotion all of the time, we talk about emotional energy."
The Bantams killed off a late Cadets power play and the score stagnated despite the Bantam pressure at 2-1 after two periods.
The emotional energy McShane spoke of would be channeled in the third once the Cadets weathered the second period storm. After Trinity's Barclay Gammill nearly leveled the score, Norwich extended its lead on the ensuing rush on a top notch individual play by Paul Russell. He was in the right place, at the right time.
As Russell barreled into the zone, Trinity goaltender Alex Morin soujurned out of his net to play the puck, which was left to the end boards. After briefly losing an edge on his path towards Morin, Russell continued his forward progress, and got a surprise opening to strike when Morin mishandled the puck on the forehand on his rim clear attempt towards the right wing boards.
Russell got on top of the puck almost instantly with a strong line, and at that point, it was a race to the goal line between the out-of-position Morin and the puck, and the puck would end up winning. The Norwich forward wrapped around the right wing post and thrusted the puck through the legs of the scrambling Morin to take a 3-1 lead and put the onus on the 2015 National Champions with just under fourteen minutes to play.
The amazing thing is, it almost didn't happen for Russell. McShane considered not dressing the senior for either game that weekend, but elected to keep Russell in the lineup and received a huge payoff.
"That was an unbelievable goal," McShane said. I had a meeting with him before we left because I was thinking about not dressing him. But he convinced me and proved it. He's a senior and a good kid. That was a huge goal."
Any hopes of a Trinity comeback were temporarily put on hold as back-to-back penalty calls on the Bantams at 7:41 and 10:12 of the period gave Norwich its fourth and fifth power play chances of the night. Yet again, the Trinity penalty killers remained effective and kept the Cadets off the board for the first three minutes before a Norwich penalty evened things up. Trinity was unable to capitalize on the abbreviated power play that followed and it remained 3-1 Norwich with under seven minutes to play.
The Bantams nearly reduced their deficit to one with just over four minutes to play when Andy Chugg beat Reichenbach with a backhander, but his shot rang off the right post. Less than a minute later, with 3:29 remaining in the game, an Ian Williams crosschecking penalty put Trinity on the power play which prompted Trinity head coach Matt Greason to use his timeout.
Morin was sheparded off the ice with ten seconds left on that power play and as that happened, Trinity got its last great chance to equalize but Reichenbach had other plans with a brilliant sequence you'd have to see to believe.
As the puck was rotated to the left wing side, Griffyn Martin teed off a shot that caromed off Reichenbach. The puck floated out to Ethan Holdaway, who had a fair amount of room at the goal mouth to stuff the puck home if not for a complete robbery by Reichenbach. Reichenbach made the stop with the blade of his skate, and even then he wasn't out of the woods yet. The puck trickled back out to Martin again, who saw any angle he might have had eaten away by Reichenbach on the left post, and the game returned to full strength.
For Reichenbach, it was a byproduct of staying in the moment, as he had done once the puck had dropped. Before the game, the Norwich netminder had given some thought to a previous meeting with the Bantams and was determined for history to not repeat itself with the National Title on the line.
|William Pelletier's empty-net goal with 25 seconds to go capped off his career, and the Cadets' fourth national title.
Photo: Jeff Melnik for d3photography.com
"What was going through my mind before a game like this, was that they beat us last year in overtime in our own rink and I was in net that game," Reichenbach said. "It was a bit of a heartbreaker. Tonight I tried not to look up at the scoreboard. I was just in the moment and enjoying it. The crowd was unbelievable too, it was basically home ice."
With a premier chance to tie for Trinity in the rear view mirror, William Pelletier was due to make the final stop on the road to the national championship, as his empty net goal at 19:35 sealed the deal and Norwich walked away victorious in the Division III season's final game for the first time since 2010.
During the game, Pelletier inched up to finish his career 24th on the all-time points list at Norwich and was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. The senior was much happier about the prize that awaited after the game.
"This was much better than 24th or whatever it is," Pelletier said as he pointed to the night's spoils in the postgame press conference, "I would take that trophy any day."
Pointing to that trophy after being the one to drive the final nail in the coffin was a far cry from where Pelletier was last season. He spent almost an entire season on the shelf, appearing in just seven games as a junior before paving the way for the Cadet attack as a senior with 45 points. Even when injured, Pelletier helped to support the team towards a championship run the following year.
"It was so hard to be in the stands watching these guys play when you know you can make a difference on the ice," Pelletier said. "But you can't because you're in the stands and you cannot contribute. I tried just to stay positive with everyone in the locker room. That's really what I tried to do when I was injured. And to just be ready to go when I was fine."
This season, the Cadet leading scorer was a lot more than fine.
Reichenbach's 35 saves, including the pivotal last scramble, earned him an 11-1-3 record for his senior campaign. Morin wraps up his junior campaign with a 19-7-3 record.
After the contest went final, Trinity forward Ethan Holdaway expressed his pride in a Bantams team that changed the complexion of their season in January to advance to this point.
"This is the tightest group I've ever been with," Holdaway said. "Everyone loves each other. Everyone battled so hard through a lot of adversity this year. We stuck together and we never took our foot off the gas pedal. Midway through the year, we were really struggling. We got swept up in Maine against Bowdoin and Colby and that was a real turning point for us. We got together and really turned it around."
"I think we've only had one loss between then and tonight. It's too bad we couldn't get it done tonight but I'm still proud of every single one of the guys that put on this sweater all year. At that point in the year, we were .500 in the NESCAC just trying to get back on the wagon and get back to the basics: crashing the net, having a solid D-zone. We weren't really thinking that long term but we got some traction and got some wins going, won the NESCAC, we and were just taking it one game at a time. And that's what we did, and it worked."
Holdaway graduates as part of a senior class that holds three NCAA tournament appearances, two frozen fours, and the 2015 national championship. Even in defeat, Greason could not have been prouder of the group that established a winning tradition in Hartford.
"I sure as heck hope we're established," Greason said. "This is the best senior class in the history of the college in terms of ice hockey players and in terms of human beings. There is nobody better than them. So it's going to be tough but there is nothing in life that is this special is easy. We have to continue to move forward and just find a way, just like the guys in that locker room have always found a way to do."
All the while, the Norwich Cadets added to their own winning tradition in a Frozen Four nobody in attendance will soon forget.