MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Norwich was about ready to leave the ice when Dave Sears, the PA announcer at Kenyon Arena, announced that the Primelink Great Northern Shootout winner would be determined by a shootout. It is a good thing the Cadets did not leave, because after ten skaters attempted to score one-on-one with the goaltender, the Cadets came away with the victory by a score of 2-1 in the shootout.
When asked if he thought the game’s ending was a bit anti-climactic, Norwich head coach Mike McShane retorted, “I thought it was pretty damn good.”
The game was officially recorded as a tie between No. 1 ranked Middlebury (2-0-1) and No. 2 ranked Norwich (2-0-1), but Norwich took home its fourth Primelink tournament in its seven year history.
When asked what it meant to win the Primelink, Norwich captain Kurtis McLean remarked, “First off, it’s bragging rights.” He added, “It means that we’re a contender for being the top team in the nation.”
The championship game went into a shootout after 60 minutes of regulation hockey and five minutes of overtime could not decide the game which officially ended in a 1-1 tie.
In the shootout, the Cadets took an early two-goal lead on goals by James Duhamel and Garrett Winder, who took home the MVP award for the tournament.
“It feels good knowing all that hard work pays off, and good things happen,” said Winder.
The Panthers, meanwhile, could only muster one goal. Eric LaFreniere was able to squeak one under the pads of Kevin Schieve, who made 23 saves on the evening.
Middlebury head coach Bill Beaney seemed quite upbeat after the game admitting with a smile,” We’re not very good in shootouts.”
Middlebury was able to get the game into a shootout by knotting the game at one, immediately after Norwich defenseman Brian Mullally’s penalty for interference expired. After a flurry of shots from the point and slot, senior forward Tim Graham picked up the puck in the slot and fired a high shot past the glove side of Schieve at 5:02 of the third period.
Prior to Graham’s goal, the Panthers offense was stifled by the Norwich defense and Schieve, who did not play in the semifinal game Friday against Potsdam.
It was the play of Panthers’ goaltender Yen-I Chen that kept them within one goal. Norwich had a large number of odd-man rushes including a fair amount of breakaways, and a 2-on-0, but the Cadets could not put any more past Chen.
“I was very happy with Yen-I and what he did,” said Beaney.
The best opportunity the Cadets had to widen their lead came on a Middlebury power play in the third period when team-leading scorers McLean and Vadim Beliaev skated in 2-on-0. McLean passed the puck across to Beliaev who deflected it wide of the net.
“We had five or six breakaways when we didn’t even get shots off,” admitted McShane.
Beaney indicated that it was the Panthers defense that played a role in the Cadets’ failed chances. “The defense was really scrappy. They battled every bit of the way.”
Norwich opened the scoring 8:43 into the first period on the power play. After Mike Serba came out of the corner with the puck he dished it to Jason Wilson who chipped the puck over Chen for his second goal of the season.
Despite the amount of youth on the ice, both teams battled hard the entire game, learning quickly about the age old rivalry between Middlebury and Norwich.
“We had 14 new players on the ice who hadn’t played Middlebury last year,” said McShane. “That was a great character win against them.”
Beaney shared McShane’s sentiments: “The best thing that I learned was that our young guys know what it’s like to compete.”
In the consolation game, Potsdam upset Plattsburgh by the score of 3-2, backed by great goaltending from Rob Barnhardt, who earned a spot on the all-tournament team.
Also making it to the all-tournament team were Norwich’s Noah Lucia, who was voted Rookie of the tournament, Beliaev, and the MVP Winder. John Sales and Patrick Nugent represented Middlebury.
Middlebury and Norwich continue NESCAC/ECAC East conference play next weekend on the road. Middlebury will travel to Salem State and Southern Maine, while Norwich will take on Hamilton and Amherst.