NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Levi Doria’s wrister from the top of the faceoff circle at 7:17 of the second overtime ended over 33 minutes of deadlocked hockey, giving Middlebury a 3-2 win, and a shot at its sixth national championship.
Doria had just hopped onto the ice on a line change, and took a touch pass from winger John Dawson.
“I was pretty much all alone at the top of the circle, and the D was poking on me, and I just shot,” said Doria. “I saw a little bit of the corner, but I was mostly trying to get the net — I knew [Evgeny] Saidachev was going for the net.”
Doria’s shot hit the top corner of the net, just evading Norwich goalie Kevin Schieve. “They had a couple of similar chances in the game, same kind of play. I think it must have missed my blocker by an inch or two,” said Schieve.
Norwich had taken a two-goal lead just over 11 minutes into the contest.
Kurtis McLean, the Cadets’ leading scorer, buried a backhander just above sprawled Middlebury goalie Marc Scheuer only 15 seconds into the game. At 11:22 of the first period, Andrew Senesi poked away a lazy pass at his own blue line, chased it to center ice and broke in alone on Scheuer, lofting it over the Middlebury netminder to open a 2-0 lead.
The early Norwich lead didn’t rattle Middlebury. “We all know that the game is not going to be decided by one goal, especially at this level,” said Scheuer, who made 44 saves. “We average five goals a game and so does Norwich, so after those two goals, there’s still two and a half periods to go. We’ve scored four or five goals in a period before, so we knew that it could be done, and we never looked back.”
Scheuer’s strong play kept the Panthers within reach of Norwich in the frenetically paced first period. “There were a slew of good scoring chances. And I think if Marc [Scheuer] hadn’t been on top of his game, we could have been down three or four goals in the first period,” said Middlebury coach Bill Beaney. “He just exuded confidence right from the start, and I think that it just buoyed our confidence.”
Middlebury closed the gap to 2-1 when Shady Young’s shot hit Schieve in the chest, but dropped in front the big netminder. The puck lay there for the trailing John Sales after it was overskated by the Cadet defense, and Sales lofted it over a spread-eagle Schieve.
The Panthers tied the game when off a face off in the Norwich zone, Kevin Cooper redirected defenseman Brian Phinney’s shot from the point at 14:13 of the third.
“In this type of game, I don’t think there’s going to be a 2-on-1, nice play, top corner goal,” said Cooper. “The way this game was working, it was going to be some forward working, driving the net, a deflection in front. I was just standing in front, battling in front, and I just tipped it off my stick, and it went in the corner. These are the games where that’s the type of goal you’re going to get.”
Both teams had good chances in the first overtime, but with Middlebury starting to carry play, Norwich coach Mike McShane took his time out at 8:32.
“I thought we lost a little momentum through two or three shifts, and then [after the time out] I thought we got it back. At the end [of the first overtime] I thought we had a couple of good chances at the buzzer,” said McShane.
Norwich had the only power play opportunity of the first overtime, when Middlebury defenseman Brett Shirreffs was called for high sticking at 15:27. Norwich had a flurry of shots on Scheuer, controlling the puck in the Middlebury zone for most of the power play.
But Scheuer was up to the task with several acrobatic saves, including one off his skate while standing — literally — on his head. “I just had that feeling that I wasn’t going to let a goal in. When you’re in the zone, you have that feeling,” said Scheuer.
“That was the best goaltending I’ve ever seen; I knew he wasn’t going to let in a goal,” said Cooper, who despite Scheuer’s strength in goal had the most exciting scoring chance during the only minor of overtime, when he sped down the ice on a breakaway, and fired a wrister into the pads of a well-positioned Schieve.
Schieve, like Scheuer, felt he played well, making 42 saves. “Right from the get-go, everything seemed to be hitting me. Especially in the second period. Some shots went through screens and hit my arm or my pad.”
Middlebury will face St. Norbert in Saturday’s championship game. The Green Knights will have an extra five hours of rest, and have played 27 minutes less hockey, but Beaney isn’t worried about his team being tired. “This group will come out and they’ll compete tomorrow. I think when you get down to this time of the year, it’s not as much about fatigue, it’s about being mentally tough enough to handle the task at hand.”