LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – The No. 3/5 Oswego State men’s ice hockey team (25-4-0) earned its spot in the NCAA Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championship game for the second straight year after the Lakers defeated No. 2 Norwich (24-4-1), 6-3, Friday night.
Oswego State, which is making its fifth overall NCAA title game appearance and looking for its second national championship, will play UW-Eau Claire at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Lake Placid. UW-Eau Claire defeated Utica, 5-1, in the other semifinal contest.
Oswego State trailed on two separate occasions, but showed its experience and composure to tie the game each time before taking the lead for good in the third period on the first of two Chris Muise (Sr., Oakville, Ontario) goals.
The Lakers fell into an early hole as a turnover while trying to clear the puck led to a 2-on-1 chance for Norwich. Bryce Currier found Pier-Olivier Cotnoir open at center ice, and he lifted the shot over Hare 20 seconds into the game. Kyle Thomas was also credited with a second assist.
It did not take long for Oswego State to respond, though, as the Laker offense forced the Norwich defense to start chasing the puck. Chris Carr (So., Burlington, Ontario) and Jon Whitelaw (Sr., Huntsville, Ontario) missed looks wide of the left post with Cadet goalie Chris Czarnota caught out of position. As Norwich tried to clear the puck, Zach Josepher (Sr., Wantagh, N.Y.) found Division III National Player of the Year, Paul Rodrigues (Sr., Etobicoke, Ontario), who cashed in on an open net at 3:18.
Both squads had scoring opportunities throughout the period, but each goalie was up to the task as Hare finished with nine saves and Czarnota registered 11 stops. Oswego State nearly took the lead in the final minute of the first on two separate occasions. The first when Bobby Gertsakis (So., Pickering, Ontario) had a turnaround pass to Whitelaw on a breakaway, but the shot was turned aside. The Lakers had one more chance in the waning seconds as Chris Brown (Sr., Centreville, Ontario) just missed Muise crashing the net through the slot.
Norwich posted the first goal of the second period at 8:06 when a breakout pass from Corey Hale deep in the Cadet defensive zone landed on Kyle Thomas’ stick, leaving him alone with Hare. Thomas, then, beat Hare 5-hole to put Norwich in front, 2-1. Dean Niezgoda earned the second assist on the goal.
However, the Lakers bounced back again when defenseman Tim Carr (Sr., Burlington, Ontario) wristed a shot from the top of the slot into the top left corner at 9:29. Kyle Badham (Jr., Oakville, Ontario) and Chris Carr (So., Burlington, Ontario) were credited with the assists on the play.
Oswego State nearly jumped out in front less than 90 seconds later when Whitelaw laced a pass from the near boards along the goal line to Luke Moodie (Sr., Oakville, Ontario), who was crashing hard towards the net. Czarnota closed the 5-hole for the save.
Oswego State faced its first penalty kill of the contest with 39.5 seconds left in the second after the Lakers were called for tripping. However, the score remained tied at two heading into the third period with Czarnota making 25 combined saves for Norwich, which matched a single-game high this season for the junior.
The Cadets opened the third period with increased offensive pressure, but Muise created a turnover in front of the Norwich bench as the frame worn on. He passed the puck up to Brown for a 3-on-1 rush as Gertsakis joined the play. Brown sent the pass back to Muise, who took a shot from the left faceoff dot that stayed on the ice and went inside the right post at 6:14.
Norwich went back on the power play at 8:57 following a Laker interference penalty, but the penalty kill unit stood tall.
Tyler Leimbrock (Sr., Bolton, Ontario) made it a two-goal game at 12:04 when he capitalized on a series of tic-tac-toe passes from David Titanic (Jr., Markham, Ontario) and Muise. Muise fed the puck from the far boards to Titanic in the slot, who then backhanded a pass to Leimbrock, who skated around the net for open-net goal. The marker prompted a Cadet timeout.
Oswego State made it a 5-2 game when Matt Singleton (Sr., Whitby, Ontario) joined the scoring parade at 13:47. He capitalized on a turnover behind the Norwich net and handled the puck in the slot, beating Czarnota to the right post for his fourth goal of the season.
Norwich was not out of the game, though, as Corey Hale made it a 5-3 contest at 17:49 with the assist going to Colin Mulvey. After the Cadets won the ensuing faceoff, they pulled Czarnota with 2:03 remaining in regulation. Norwich started swarming in its offensive zone, prompting Oswego State to call timeout with 1:25 left on the clock after the Lakers were called for icing after a long shift.
Oswego State weathered the final push, as Ayotte and Brown hit Muise with a pass at neutral ice. Muise carried the puck just across the blue line before lifting the puck into the net.
Hare posted his 21st win of the season after stopping 24 shots, while Czarnota recorded a season-high 28 saves.