The fourth ranked Spartans of Castleton State College squared off against No. 1 ranked Norwich University Cadets in the men’s hockey ECAC East semifinal match-up on Feb. 28. The Cadets, also ranked No. 1 in the nation, hosted the event at Kreitzberg Arena in Northfield, Vermont.
They battled throughout, but came up just short with a 2-1 final score.
The Spartans came out with a lot of energy to start the game, pinning the Cadets in their own zone for the first half of the period.
“Every time you’re playing the number one team in the country, there’s a little more fire in your belly,” said Kurt Johnson, Castleton’s freshman center.
The two teams fought throughout the night playing a very physical style game. They traded shots in the first, highlighted by a shrug shoulder save of Norwich sophomore goaltender Ty Reichenbach.
“We changed our fore-check a couple of times because they were beating us to the puck,” said Norwich head coach Mike McShane. “They were out-hitting us so we tried to do a couple of different things.”
Norwich then took the lead with 2:24 left in the first after Dmitry Ermakov found a seam up the middle, received a pass from Bryce Currier and buried it in the top left corner. Alec Brandrup also assisted on the play.
The Spartans went into the break down by one, but confidence in play did not waiver.
“I thought we did a good job in the first 15 minutes of the first period then we got away from it in the last five and they scored on us,” said Castleton head coach Steve Moffat.
Castleton responded quickly in the second with a goal of its own 51 seconds in by Braedan Moffatt, assisted by Trevor Hanna, to knot the game at 1-1. Moffatt from his knees guided the puck in off of a rebounded shot.
The energy was flowing and the place was rocking. About two minutes after Castleton’s goal, a viscous hit was laid on a Castleton player by Mitch Byrne of Norwich, who received a two-minute minor penalty for boarding. The hit spurred a scrum at the Norwich bench, but the two teams were soon separated.
Norwich reclaimed the lead with 3:50 left to play in the second off of crisp, clean passing by the cadets followed by an absolute snipe by Bryce Currier in the high slot leaving no chance for Castleton goaltender Ryan Mulder to make the save.
Headed into the third with the game at 2-1, the Spartans knew that it was win or go home. Norwich kept attacking, but Mulder stood at the ready, saving the rest of the Cadet’s attempts.
After an icing by Norwich with 7.8 second left in the third the Spartans found themselves with a chance to tie it late.
“The original play was for me win the draw back to Greeny (Brian Greene) or Will (Laking) and they could either take the shot or look to Frosty (Ryan Frost),” said Johnson, who took the faceoff. “I was only thinking win it back.”
Johnson did win it back to Greene only to have his shot blocked and sent down the ice to end the game.
The Spartans only graduate three seniors and end their season with a record of 11-16 overall and 8-11 in conference play.