After two periods of play, Norwich looked well on its way to cruising to an NCAA semifinal win over Gustavus Adolphus with a 5-1 lead heading into the second intermission.
However, Gustavus Adolphus wasn’t done yet, as the Gusties came roaring back in the third period with three unanswered goals to cut the lead to one late in the game.
However, Gustavus Adolphus was never able to pull even in the final 37 seconds of the game and the Cadets survived to down the Gusties, 5-4, and advance to the national championship game for the second straight year.
Norwich jumped out on top with two goals in the first period, both coming from junior forward Julie Fortier to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
On the second goal, Fortier brought the puck into the zone on the right wing and then fired a no-look pass back toward the blue line to Melissa Rundlett. Rundlett completed the give-and-go by taking the pass and feeding it back to Fortier, who tipped the pass over the shoulder of Gustavus Adolphus goalie Danielle Justice.
“Rundlett and I have been playing together for our whole college careers,” Fortier said. “I just knew someone was going to be there. I went to the net and she sent it back to me and I just got my stick on it to deflect it over [Justice]‘s shoulder.”
Fortier completed her natural hat trick just 2:27 into the second period to break the NCAA tournament record for the fastest hat trick scored from the start of an NCAA D-III Women’s Tournament game.
The Saint-Malachie, Que. product banged home a rebound after an initial shot from Sarianne Lynn at the blue line that was saved by Justice for her 23rd goal of the season and stretched the Cadets’ lead to 3-0.
“We came out well and were able to get up with two first period goals and then start the second with another goal,” Norwich coach Mark Bolding said. “We made a couple nice plays and were able to convert on our chances.”
Lindsey Hjelm finally got Gustavus Adolphus on the board with an unassisted tally that beat Cindy Fortin five-hole after the Norwich goaltender was screened by traffic in front.
However, the Cadets pumped home two more goals before the second intermission as Melissa Rundlett added her 16th goal of the season and Brittane Michaud scored her seventh goal to give the Cadets what appeared to be a comfortable 5-1 lead.
Instead of folding up the tent though, Gustavus Adolphus came storming back with three goals, with one from Jenna Christensen and two from Allie Schwab, with the second coming with 37 seconds left and an extra attacker on the ice.
“The first and second period I thought Norwich just in general played a little harder,” Gustavus Adolphus coach Mike Carroll said. “We had some really good opportunities and were outshooting them. There were some things that we probably could have done better, but they exposed us defensively. We just couldn’t get the puck out of end at times and they took advantage of it.”
Carroll said he was hoping the team could carry the momentum gained from the third period into tomorrow’s third place game against Middlebury at 3:30 p.m.
“The girls made some good adjustments and played with heart and competed, that’s all you can ask for from your team,” Carroll said. “The better team won today though, no question. We’re a good team still and we plan on carrying that over for tomorrow.”
Fortin turned aside 32 saves for Norwich to improve to 17-2 on the year and pick up her 49th career win for the Cadets. Justice stopped 21 shots for Gustavus Adolphus to drop to 17-4-3.
The five goals scored against Gustavus Adolphus were the most the Gusties have given up since the first game of the 2007-08 season against Wis.-Stevens Point.
Norwich will have the chance to avenge last year’s 7-2 loss to Amherst in the 2010 national championship game in St. Peter, Minn. This season marks just the fourth year the Cadets have been a varsity program, and they have made the NCAA tournament in three of those four years.
Norwich and RIT opened each other’s respective seasons at the East/West Hockey Classic hosted at Norwich’s Kreitzberg Arena on the last weekend in October. The Tigers won 3-1 in the only meeting between the two clubs for the all-time series.
Face-off for the national championship game is set for 7 p.m. and will follow the third place game between Middlebury and Gustavus Adolphus at 3:30 p.m.