Injuries in all team sports are a fact of life. You know they are going to happen, and yet there is no real way to prepare for them or identify who the casualty list is going to take from your lineup over the course of the season. For the Norwich Cadets, who have been at the top or near the top of the national rankings all season, injuries have been a problem. Despite the man games lost, their depth and need for players to step up their games may be a blessing in disguise as they look to win another ECAC East title this weekend, and advance on to the NCAA Tournament, and possibly their third straight Frozen Four appearance.
Blake Forkey — 12 games played, Shawn Baker — 19 games played, Emmond Bell — 7 games played, Tim Houston — 11 games played; all upperclassmen who have been big contributors to the success of the Norwich program over the past couple of seasons that have missed significant time playing this year.
That’s not all. Add in the handful of games missed by other key players, including Kyle Thomas, Doug Lindensmith, Pasha Kozhokin, and Parker Carroll, and you have a real dilemma for any coach trying to find a consistent lineup to lineup at the rink each and every game.
Ironically, Thomas and Lindensmith are still among the team leaders in points despite lost time, but the absence of other key players has given some newcomers an opportunity to play and gain valuable experience while adding more depth to an already potent roster for Norwich.
Sophomore Travis Janke (9-26-35) leads the team in points. Sophomore goaltender Chris Czarnota has a record of 8-1-1 with a save percentage of .939 and a goals-against average of 1.15 in his 10 games (mostly played in the second half of the season when starter Parker Carroll missed some time for Norwich). Heck, Czarnota is even contributing offensively with an assist on his stats profile this season.
Two other sophomores, Chris Duszynski and Shane Gorman, have also been key contributors for a team that has three 30-point scorers, 10 double-digit point scorers, and 25 players with at least a point this season for Norwich. While some of these injuries would have devastated other teams, the Cadets have put players on the ice that continue to succeed in their system, which has a high-tempo yet very disciplined approach to the game.
This weekend, the Cadets will once again be hosting the final four teams remaining in the hunt for the ECAC East championship. The scary part for the other three teams is that key players like Kyle Thomas and Parker Carroll are back in the lineup and playing like they haven’t missed any time this season. Last week’s 5-0 shutout of New England College was textbook for the Cadets. Norwich had four different goal scorers (Lindensmith had two) and 10 players with points while on the back end, while Parker Carroll gained the shutout with just 14 saves but a focus that enables him to be ready when the action dictates. In just two seasons, Carroll is now 27-2-3 in 35 games, and has gained significant postseason experience in last year’s Frozen Four appearance.
Friday afternoon in the first of the two semifinal games, Norwich will take on the Huskies from Southern Maine, who have truly taken advantage of the play and senior leadership of forward Dan Rautenberg and goalie Braely Torris to reach the final four. In the two regular season contests this season, the Cadets ran off with matching 5-1 victories in games played in early November and again in late January. What was their recipe for success?
In both contests, the Cadets badly outshot the Huskies, putting a lot of pressure on the defense and goaltending for Southern Maine. They scored early to play with the lead, and really limited any good looks by the Huskies with their strong defensive zone coverage and possession game in the offensive zone.
“You know we lost to Bowdoin and Norwich in the same week toward the end of January, and the styles of both talented offensive teams was very different,” said coach Jeff Beaney. “Bowdoin is such a finesse team, and when they are on, and they were ON, they are just pretty to watch. There is a lot of individual skill on that roster, and they showed it to us that night for sure. Norwich just rolls lines out and plays so disciplined in the offensive zone with their cycle game and possession game and will continue to put pressure on you across four lines 45 seconds at a time. They may not be as skilled overall, but they may be more effective than a team like Bowdoin because they are relentless and so deep with the number of forwards who can put the puck in the net. If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s we can’t give them any goals and get ourselves in a hole early. It would be very hard to dig out of a deficit against Norwich.”
For the top-seeded Cadets, Friday afternoon is another step toward their championship dreams, and a chance to win their third straight conference championship and second national championship in three seasons. No one is looking past the Huskies on Friday, but with a healthy roster, there may just be a little more jump in the stride come Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. at Kreitzberg Arena.
Conference titles are up for grabs — drop the puck!