In the final weekend of regular season action, the Williams men’s hockey team had two of its toughest games all year. The team faced off against both the five-time defending national champion Middlebury Panthers and the top-ranked team in the country, the Norwich Cadets.
Special significance was added to the final regular season games by the fact that if Williams could win both it could host the postseason tournament. Williams managed a 2-2 tie with Middlebury on Friday night but dropped a 5-1 contest at Norwich on Saturday. The pair of results allows Middlebury to host the NESCAC tournament, which will determine the conference’s entrant into the NCAA tournament.
In the first period of the Middlebury game, the Panthers came out flying. They moved the puck effectively, forechecked well and managed to keep the puck almost exclusively in the Eph defensive zone. The Panthers had 15 shots in the period, many of which were quality scoring chances, but Williams goaltender David Haimson ’00 put on a clinic to keep the period scoreless, making many saves on point blank shots from the low slot area.
Despite being outplayed, the Ephs managed to get the game’s first goal on a power play early in the second period. Ryan Crisp ’01 won a face-off in the offensive zone and instantly passed the puck to his linemate Wesley Fox ’03, who was cutting to the net but appeared to be covered by a Middlebury player.
Fox was able to receive the pass in traffic and beat the goaltender through the five hole. The goal sparked the Ephmen to play more offensively. Though Williams dominated the next five minutes of play, Middlebury leveled the score at one on a three-on-three rush that resulted in a slapshot from the top of the circle. The remainder of the second period saw the flow of the game degrade as both teams began making neutral zone turnovers.
Only a minute into the third, Middlebury scored on the power play to go on top 2-1. All night Middlebury moved the puck well at the points and attacked the Eph defensemen in the corner by aggressively cycling.
For about 10 minutes after the Middlebury goal Williams had difficulty gaining any offensive flow as Middlebury was able to keep the puck in the Eph zone. However, after a particularly good Middlebury scoring chance Eph head coach Bill Kangas, called a timeout with 8:30 to play in the third.
This was effectively the turning point of the game as the Ephs gradually improved their forechecking and used their dump and chase style hockey to get the better of the Panthers.
With under four minutes to play the line of Fox, Crisp and Dan Cotuno ‘02 was having an effective shift cycling the puck in the corner. Crisp emerged with the puck behind the goal line, and defensemen Tim Albrecht ’01 smartly cut from his position at the point towards the net to receive the puck from Crisp. Albrecht had difficulty teeing up the shot and his first attempt was blocked.
However, Albrecht and Fox converged on the net in search of the rebound and Albrecht was able to jam it home to tie the game at two.
From that point forward the Ephs controlled the play, and on two occasions it looked as if they would score and win the game. Unfortunately, the Middlebury goaltender came up with some big saves in overtime.
The end result of the game, a 2-2 tie, serves to build tension for a possible NESCAC tournament showdown between the two teams which would take place in two weekends from now at Middlebury’s rink.
After the emotional and physical game against the Panthers, the Ephs had an even greater challenge in the strong, disciplined, and skilled Norwich Cadets. With defensemen Dan Houck ’02, Eric Demment ’01, and Bill Gilchrist ’03 out of the line up with injuries, Kangas moved Chad Ogiba ’00 back to defense.
Ogiba played an absolutely phenomenal game, jump-starting rushes, killing penalties and clearing the bigger Norwich players out of the slot. However, Ogiba’s efforts along with fellow defensemen Rob Hodge ’00, Brent Kozel ’02, and Albrecht were not enough to contain the explosive Cadets.Undermanned, the Ephs moved the puck up ice opportunistically and battled hard for loose pucks in their own end. The Ephs took the lead in the first minute of play on an excellent breakaway goal from Joe Butler ’01.
Norwich tied it up with six minutes left in the period and took the lead 2-1 with only 30 seconds to play. In the second period, Norwich was on the power play for over eight minutes.
The Cadets had many excellent scoring opportunities which Haimson stopped, but at even strength in the middle of the period, Haimson was screened and a slap shot from the point eluded him, making the score 3-1.
In the first portion of the third the Ephs held their own, but at the 8:27 mark, Norwich scored again to go up 4-1. That ended the competitive phase of the hockey game. The final score of 5-1 is misleading as the Ephs fought hard and played surprisingly well for missing so many critical players.
The future of the Ephs’ hockey team is bright as they host their first playoff game against the Amherst Lord Jeffs on Saturday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. The game is part of the first round of the first-ever NESCAC tournament. Williams defeated the Jeffs 3-1 earlier in the season in Amherst.
If the Ephmen can win, they will be in the NESCAC final four to be held at Middlebury. The winner of the tournament will be the only conference team to qualify for the NCAA tournament.