The fans arrived early for the championship game tonight. People were lined up on the stairs at the entrance leading to the arena starting almost three hours before game time. When the doors finally opened an hour and a half prior to the opening face-off, the first fans in the doors made a beeline to lay claim to the best standing room only spots along the railing circling the arena. Friendly jockeying for these coveted positions continued right up until play began.
The faces of the two teams revealed a stark contrast in grooming. Standing along the Norwich blueline were the smooth-shaven faces of the Cadets, while along the other blueline, each of the Oswego players was sporting a full playoff beard. Even Oswego coach George Roll got into the act, although his playoff beard revealed a little more grey than the players.
Between the Teams
Prior to tonight, Norwich held a slim 2-1 lead in the all-time series with Oswego. The last time Norwich and Oswego met was in the 1995-1996 season in the Elmira tournament. The Cadets won that game by a score of 5-4.
Even though Oswego was seeded higher in the tournament, they agreed to allow Norwich to use its home bench for the game. However, the Lakers did exercise the right to wear their home white jerseys, forcing the Cadets into their road maroon and gold sweaters. Oswego was also listed as the home team on the scoreboard.
Between the Players
Oswego junior Mike Lukajic scored 33 goals this season. That matches the total number of goals that he scored in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined. Lukajic’s current goal scoring streak extends back to the final regular season game against Cortland, and he has scored in each of Oswego’s seven playoff games.
The Boudreau brothers have been a key part of the Norwich team this year. Senior Ed tallied 16 goals and 14 assists on the season and is the fifth leading scorer for the Cadets. Ed played his freshman year at the Divison I Maine, and transferred to Norwich for the 2000-2001 campaign. Excluding tonight, freshman Mike played in goal in nine games this season, posting a stellar 1.97 goals against average and .926 save percentage. Mike defeated St. Norbert in the semifinal game yesterday, stopping 24 of the 27 shots that he faced.
With the 6-0 win over Middlebury in the semifinal game, Oswego goaltender Tyson Gajda set a school record with his sixth career shutout. His four shutouts this season are also a school record.
In the NCAAs
This is Norwich’s second straight appearance in the NCAA D-III Men’s Hockey Championship game. Last season, Norwich was leading Wisconsin-Superior late in the third period. But Superior tied the game and eventually won it in overtime, 3-2.
Norwich’s first national championship was in 2000, when the Cadets defeated St. Thomas, 2-1.
This is the second time that Oswego has been runner up. The Lakers fell to Plattsburgh, 8-3, in the final game in 1987.
Tonight was the first time since 1997 that the host school has won the national championship. The last host to win the title was Middlebury when they defeated Wisconsin-Superior, 3-2, that year.
Early Bird Doesn’t Always Catch the Worm
As Chris Lerch noted in his “The Early Bird Catches the Title” column on March 20, the winner of the early semifinal has won nine of the last twelve championships. However, Norwich swam against the current this year. Norwich defeated St. Norbert in the late semifinal yesterday, and became just the fourth team in the last thirteen years to go on to win the national championship the next night.
Interesting Stat of the Night
The Norwich Cadets have never been shutout during the eight-year reign of coach Mike McShane.