The Castleton men’s hockey team fell short of what would have been one of the biggest
wins in the schoool’s athletic history Friday night.The Spartans came into the game against Norwich having won 10 of their last 11 games, ranked ninth in the country and first in their conference before falling 3-1 to the Cadets.
Likewise Norwich entered ranked 10th in the country and had won seven out of their previous nine.
The Rutland Field House was packed wall-to-wall with 1,264 students, teachers and locals, the largest crowed ever gathered for a Castleton athletic event.
The Spartans hit the ice with the chants of, “let’s go green,” from the student section. They rode the wave of enthusiasm and had numerous scoring opportunities in the first period, including a blistering wide open slap shot by captain Joe Huchko that would have ended up around the Diamond Run Mall if Norwich’s goalie David Thompsan hadn’t made a beautiful save off his right leg pad.
“They missed on some opportunities,” said Norwich head coach Mike McShane moments after his club’s victory.
With 12 minutes left in the first period, the Spartans blew another opportunity to draw first blood after sophomore Mike Anderson hooked a shot wide left on a breakaway.
Less then two minutes later, the Cadets got on the board after sophomore Justin Wissman split between two defensemen and found the back of the net. The puck just missed the extended glove of goalie Jeff Swanson.
The Cadets had another chance with under a minute to go in the period to tack on another goal, but couldn’t convert on a Billy Kasper backhand.
“We had chances to put in the 4th and 5th goal, but never did,” said Mcshane.
It looked as though The Spartans would get one back in the second period after they found themselves with a power play advantage, but couldn’t convert after only getting off three shots during the two minute advantage.
The Spartan faithful picked up the noise again after they had yet another opportunity to even things up on a power play. But they were silenced once again after Norwich’s Rick Cleaver stole the puck at center ice and skated in for a short-handed goal putting the Cadets up 2-0. The Spartans would finish the night going a dreadful 0-8 on power plays.
“They just mishandled the puck and it wound up deflecting off me and just went in,” said Cleaver after the game.
The Cadets could have very well drilled in another goal if Castleton’s Jared Lavender didn’t break up a puck that was centered across the ice by Norwich’s C.J. Visko.
Moments later the Cadets sent a couple hundred Spartan fans to the exits after Norwich’s Rich Cleaver netted a one-timer from Eric Lauriaault, taking an intimidating 3-0 lead on the Spartans.
“It was really disappointing, it took the life right out of the crowd after they put in the third one,” said Castleton freshman and hockey fan Taylor McCarthy.
The Spartans came out in the third period on all cylinders trying desperately to get back into the game. Huchko missed on a slap shot a few feet inside the blue line early in the period as the crowed tried to rally the team one last time.
The chants of “let’s go green” resurfaced throughout the rink after the Spartans finally scored on a Steve Culbertson shot.
“It was too little to late,” said a disappointed Culberton after the game.
The Spartans only got off three shots in the final period.
“If we didn’t make two mistakes this game would be in overtime right now,” said Castleton Coach Alex Todd, minutes after the game ended.
The Spartans had a few good looks in the final minutes of play, but couldn’t seal the deal on a second goal, even when Todd pulled his goalie with less than three minutes to play.
After the disappointing loss, the team rebounded nicely with a 5-0 thrashing of St. Michaels on Saturday.
The team is back in action Thursday at Trinity.