Courtesy Norwich Sports Information
NORTHFIELD –– Sophomore Felix Brassard (St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec) scored the game-winning goal 2:46 into overtime to lift the Norwich University men’s ice hockey team to a 2-1 victory over the Univ. of New England and punch its ticket to the NCAA Division III Frozen Four.
Norwich (22-4-3) extended its unbeaten streak to 18 straight games and will now make its 13th Frozen Four appearance next Friday and the first since winning its fourth NCAA Division III National Championship in 2017.
Brassard scored his 11th goal of the season with a terrific individual effort on the fore check behind the net to lift the stick of a UNE defender right next to the Nor’easters’ goal. Brassard quickly spun and fired a wrist shot inside the left post past a surprised UNE goalie Ben Churchfield, who was caught off guard with the turnover.
Brassard’s goal spoiled an otherwise nearly perfect effort in goal by Churchfield, who made 39 saves for the Nor’easters to give UNE every chance to win and pull off their second straight upset in the NCAA Tournament.
Junior goalie Tom Aubrun (Chamonix, France) shook off an early goal against to make 27 saves and backstop the Cadets to the victory for his 19th win of the season.
The first period featured tight defense by both sides, despite combining for 24 shots on goal in the frame.
Univ. of New England struck first blood at the 4:07 mark of the first period with Brendan Donohue scoring his ninth goal of the season on the backhand to give the Nor’easters a 1-0 lead. Donohue cut across the middle of the slot and dragged Aubrun with him but he lifted the puck just between the arm and the body of Aubrun as he slid across for the game’s first goal.
Brett Mecrones won a puck battle along the boards in the neutral zone and then flipped it into the zone with the puck glancing off the leg of Liam Neuman as it entered. Mecrones corralled the puck along the half boards and then slid a pass to the top of the slot to hit Donohue in stride to set up the goal.
Norwich responded at the 13:41 mark of the first period with sophomore Coby Downs (Montclair, Calif.) scoring his sixth goal of the season and the first since Jan. 11 to knot the score at 1-1. Downs roofed a rebound in front of the crease under the crossbar on his backhand after Churchfield made a save on Scott Swanson’s shot from the left corner. Jake Erickson (Stillwater, Minn.) picked up the secondary assist with a pass through the neutral zone up to Swanson.
In the second period the game opened up with end to end action. Norwich had the better of the shots on goal in the period, outshooting UNE 13-4 in the frame. The Cadets had two golden chances to take the lead with 3:54 left in the period and 34 seconds left. Maxime Borduas (St. Cesaire, Quebec) nearly sniped on a faceoff but his shot was lodged in the facemask of Churchfield to cause a stoppage in play. Downs then nearly had his second of the game with 34 seconds left but his wrist shot rang off the cross bar.
In the third period, UNE battled back and controlled large portions of the period, outshooting the Cadets 13-11 in the final 20 minutes. However, neither side could find the go ahead goal and the game headed to overtime.
UNE (21-7-2) was making its second NCAA Tournament appearance after winning its first CCC title two weekends ago. The Nor’easters upset NESCAC champion Trinity (Conn.) 2-1 last weekend to advance to the quarterfinal round.
Norwich continues its 2018-19 redemption tour, dream season in the first year under head coach Cam Ellsworth after falling to Hobart 3-0 on home ice in last year’s NEHC Tournament in the final year of legendary head coach Mike McShane’s tenure.
The Cadets will now face SUNY Geneseo, who was an 8-2 winner over Manhattanville in their quarterfinal matchup on Friday, March 22 at a site to be determined. Hobart defeated Oswego State 3-1 and will take on UW-Stevens Point in the other semifinal. The two semifinal winners will play for the 2019 NCAA Division III National Championship on Saturday, March 23.