NORTHFIELD, Vt. – It didn't come easy, but the Norwich University men's ice hockey team got the end result it was looking for on Saturday afternoon with their 19th New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) regular season title in the last 20 years.
Despite only salvaging a 2-2 tie vs. Skidmore, it was all the Cadets needed to clinch the crown and stave off newcomer Hobart from stealing the title in its first year in the league.
Norwich (17-6-2, 13-3-2 NEHC) edged Hobart, 28-27 in the final point standings, locking up the No. 1 seed and home ice throughout the NEHC Playoffs which start on Saturday, Feb. 17.
The Cadets will once again face a familiar foe as NU will welcome Castleton University to Kreitzberg Arena for the NEHC Quarterfinals. Norwich has ended Castleton's season six years in a row, including a 5-2 win in last year's NEHC semifinal round.
Despite outshooting Skidmore 47-26 in the game, the Cadets were only able to put two goals past the Thoroughbreds' starting goalie Brian Kowalski, who made 45 stops and stretched Skidmore's record to 4-1-1 in its last six games.
Norwich got goals from freshmen Felix Brassard (St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec) and Coby Downs (Montclair, Calif.), but it wasn't enough as Skidmore answered with two goals of its own from Chris Javens and Matt Muzyka.
Skidmore (6-17-2, 4-12-2 NEHC) took a 1-0 lead at the 16:54 mark of the first period with Javens scoring on a 3-on-2 rush off a nice setup from Owen Campbell and Matt Wolf. Javens finished the rush off perfectly with a quick wrist shot from the top of the slot that beat Ostepchuk to the right side of the net for his second goal of the year.
Norwich finally answered at the 15:29 mark of the second period with Brassard scoring his seventh of the season on the power play, finishing off a rebound after an initial save on Downs' shot.
Downs gave Norwich the lead at the 7:58 mark with a perfect snipe over the glove of Skidmore's goalie from the top of the left faceoff circle off assists from Connor Evangelista (Wakefield, Mass.) and Kevin Salvucci (Plymouth, Mass.).
However, Skidmore answered just 12 seconds later with Muzyka sniping a shot under the cross bar and over Ostepchuk's shoulder from the left wing off assists from Connor Pelkey and Corey Morgan.
Neither side was able to break the dead lock the rest of the way or in the five-minute overtime.
Norwich will look to win its 13th NEHC Tournament title starting next Saturday when it hosts Castleton in another Battle of Vermont rivalry showdown at Kreitzberg Arena.