Friday, March 1st
NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University men's ice hockey team advanced to its fourth straight ECAC East Tournament championship game with a 6-2 win over in-state rival Castleton State on Friday afternoon.
Senior forward Blake Forkey scored twice, while fellow senior Kyle Thomas notched three assists to lead the Cadets' offense on their way to their seventh straight victory in the "Battle of Vermont" rivalry. Junior goaltender Chris Czarnota also recorded 19 saves to pick up his 12th victory of the season.
Norwich (23-2-1) seized control of the game early with two goals 1:49 apart coming in the first six minutes.
Junior forward Travis Janke scored his 14th goal of the season off assists from Tory Allen and Colin Mulvey to give the Cadets a 1-0 lead at the 3:45 mark of the first period.
Janke beat Castleton starting goaltender Erick Cinotti from the middle of the slot over the glove to the upper-right corner of the net after collecting a pass from Allan from behind the net.
Norwich continued to sustain pressure and the Cadets capitalized again a little less than two minutes later when Forkey poked a loose rebound in the crease under Cinotti after the Spartans' goalie couldn't find the puck after stuffing Thomas all alone in front. Junior forward Chris Duszynski created the play after streaking up the left wing and centering a pass to Thomas.
Castleton (15-10-2) head coach Alex Todd pulled Cinotti following the second goal in favor of freshman Jake Stafford.
Stafford immediately made an impact, stoning Shane Gorman with an excellent pad save while the Cadets were on a 3-on-1 odd-man rush to keep the Spartans in the game.
Norwich carried a 2-0 lead into the first intermission and outshot Castleton 13-4 in the opening 20 minutes.
Senior forward Pier-Olivier Cotnoir notched his 12th of the season 4:58 into the second period beating Stafford on the backhand from his knees.
Gorman stretched the lead to 4-0 at the 8:16 mark of the stanza by corralling a pass from Cotnoir from the side boards and then wristing a shot past Stafford for his seventh goal of the season.
Castleton finally got on the board at the 16:10 mark of the second period with a power play goal from Ryan Frost to cut the deficit to 4-1. Frost beat Czarnota five-hole from the middle of the slot after Justin Alonzo found him from behind the net.
The Spartans kept the momentum up tallying a shorthanded unassisted goal from Brett Zeggil just 59 seconds into the third to cut the Norwich lead to 4-2. Zeggil picked off a pass in his own end and streaked up the ice on a 2-on-1. Instead of passing, Zeggil kept the puck himself, deked to get Czarnota to commit and then slid the puck behind the NU goalie at the left post.
Niezgoda took the wind out of Castleton's sails though less than a minute later when Niezgoda wristed a shot off the inside of the right post and into the back of the net off assists from Thomas and Duszynski to make it 5-2 Norwich at the 1:39 mark of the third.
Forkey added an empty net goal at the 17:39 mark to cap the scoring.
Stafford made 21 saves for Castleton to fall to 1-3-0. Czarnota improved to 12-1-1 on the year and won his sixth straight start. Norwich outshot Castleton 31-21 and was 0-for-4 on the power play while the Spartans were 1-for-5.
With Friday's victory, Norwich extended its unbeaten streak to 11 straight games and it ended Castleton's season for the second year in a row after they beat the Spartans 11-1 in last year's ECAC East title game. The Cadets haven't lost since Jan. 12 when they fell 4-1 to Babson at Kreitzberg Arena.
Norwich will face Babson in the 2013 ECAC East championship game on Saturday at 7pm. The men's championship follows two women's semifinals between Norwich and Southern Maine, as well as Manhattanville and UMass-Boston.
-- Norwich Sports Information
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