Behind some timely goaltending from senior Ryan Klingensmith, Norwich was able to withstand a late attack by Plattsburgh State and score the 3-2 victory in tonightâ€™s national semifinal contest at Herb Brooks Arena. The Cadets move on to face St. Norbert in tomorrowâ€™s national championship game. It will be Norwichâ€™s first appearance in the national title game since they won it all in 2003.
â€œWe had our chances and they had theirs,â€ said Mike McShane, head coach of the victorious Cadets. â€œWe were fortunate to get that third goal and then [Plattsburgh] really started to put the pressure on; For the last three or four minutes though our kids played hard and really handled themselves.â€
â€œI thought we played well enough to win,â€ said Cardinals head coach Bob Emery. â€œWe canâ€™t let soft goals in and we let two in tonight. Itâ€™s tough to rebound from that, but I still think we played well enough to win. We did a lot of things very well.â€
The Cadets jumped out to a 1-0 lead only 5:24 into the contest, as a pass from forward Colin Mulvey found the stick of forward Craig Serino all alone between the circles. Serinoâ€™s blast was initially stopped by Cardinalsâ€™ goaltender Josh Leis, but the rebound went straight up in the air before ultimately landing behind Leis and trickling into the net.
â€œWe have a set play out of the corner,â€ Serino said. â€œI dish it to D.J. Finmiani over on the left wing. It hit off his skate and came right back to me so I just hit a quick slap shot. It went off the blocker and I just stood there for about five seconds and watched it eventually trickle in.â€
â€œI thought we started out real well by getting that one early,â€ McShane added.
An interference call on Norwichâ€™s Steve Coon less than three minutes later gave Plattsburgh an opportunity to even things up, but they were unable to score with the man advantage before eventually taking a penalty of its own late in the power play. A penalty on Norwichâ€™s Owen Scarpino at 14:09 of the period gave the Cardinals another chance but the two minutes again expired without incident.
It appeared the Cadets had extended the lead to 2-0 late in the period as a shot appeared to find the back of the net as the official signaled goal for four to five seconds despite the fact play carried on. At the next stoppage in play, and after a brief discussion with the goal judge, it was officially ruled that the puck had merely found iron and never crossed the goal line. The 1-0 Norwich lead stood into the first intermission.
â€œI thought we had a chance to get a couple more on them,â€ McShane said. â€œThe opening stages of the second period featured significant pressure by Norwich, but Leis was able to keep the Cadets from jumping up 2-0, most notable with a sprawling leg blocker save about four minutes in.
Plattsburgh knotted the game 1-1 at 7:07 after a series of beautiful tic-tac-toe passes behind the Norwich net set up Andrew Willock for a quick one-timer that he slid past Norwich goaltender Ryan Klingensmith. It proved to be a major momentum changer as the Cardinals controlled the vast majority of the next 10 minutes. Despite Plattsburghâ€™s newfound jump, however, it was Norwich who went up 2-1 with only 56 seconds left in the period.
The Cadets continued to carry play for the most part and maintained a 26-16 shot advantage through the opening two periods.
The play originally appeared to be a broken 2-on-1, with the Cadetsâ€™ Pier-Oliver Cotnoir carrying the puck down the right side, but a quick little move to the middle and a no-look laser of a wrister beat Leis top shelf to reclaim the lead. The second period ended with the Cadets maintaining the 2-1 advantage.
â€œI thought they came out and played us for a good part of the second period,â€ McShane said. â€œWe were fortunate to get that late goal. It was a great shot, but I thought that was very important for us.â€
Plattsburgh forward Eric Satim rang a shot off the post in the early stages of the third, but Klingensmith controlled the carom just well enough to preserve the 2-1 lead, and it was a lead that soon grew to 3-1 as Steve Coon got his stick on a shot that ultimately found its way past Leis with 11:51 remaining in the contest.
The Cardinals didnâ€™t roll over, however, as passes by Chris Wieland and Matt Bessing set up a Matt Kavanagh strike to cut the lead to 3-2 with 6:30 remaining in the game.
Unfortunately for Plattsburgh, however, despite some good looks on Klingensmith in the closing minutes they were unable to find the back of the net once more and Norwich held on to advance to tomorrowâ€™s title contest.
â€œI thought we battled back well,â€ Emery said. â€œOur forte is winning battles and cycling pucks low and I thought we did a good job of that tonight. Goals just havenâ€™t come easy for us all year and it was the same tonight.â€
The Cardinals end their season at 19-6-4. Leis made 32 stops in the losing effort.
â€œI said all along that with 12 freshmen this year we were going to be a work in progress,â€ Emery said. â€œI think that came to fruition the last two weeks as I think thatâ€™s the best hockey we played all season.â€
Meanwhile, revenge will most certainly be on the mind of Norwich tomorrow as they were blanked 3-0 by St. Norbert in a 2008 semifinal. The Cadets also faced the Green Knights in the 2003 tournament and scored a 6-3 semifinal win.
â€œYou want the adrenaline to just carry on,â€ McShane said. â€œPhysically thereâ€™s a big advantage. We always try to play the first game because of that, but we donâ€™t have the extra rest, so weâ€™re going to go back and get a little pasta, some water and a good nightâ€™s sleep. The passion and momentum of tonight should be enough.â€