NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University men's ice hockey team moved a step closer to its record 13th New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) Tournament title with a thrilling 5-3 victory over Babson College on Saturday night at Kreitzberg Arena.
Norwich (20-5-2) extended its unbeaten streak to 16 straight games with the victory and will host Hobart College for the second consecutive season in the NEHC Championship game on Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m.
Hobart upset No. 1 seed UMass Boston 4-0 on Saturday night to punch its ticket to the title game and try and repeat its 2018 NEHC Tournament crown.
Junior Taeron Lewis (Winnipeg, Manitoba) and freshman Brett Ouderkirk (Monkland, Ontario) each had a goal and an assist to lead the Cadets' offense, while junior goalie Tom Aubrun (Chamonix, France) made 28 saves to lift Norwich to the victory.
The first period featured fireworks galore for scoring with the two teams combining for five goals in a back-and-forth opening 20 minutes.
Norwich scored first just 1:31 into the game with Lewis notching his seventh goal of the season on a beautiful redirection goal off a feed from the left wing by Ouderkirk. Maxime Borduas (St. Cesaire, Quebec) picked up the secondary assist on the goal as well. Ouderkirk found Lewis outstretched on the back post and Lewis got a stick on the puck to roof it into the top right corner of the net and give Norwich a 1-0 lead.
Babson answered at the 5:06 mark of the first period with Ryan Black scoring off a faceoff skirmish and Nick Rosa picked up the assist on the goal. Black corralled a loose puck near the left faceoff circle and fired a wrist shot just inside the right post and past Aubrun.
Norwich regained the lead at the 11:34 mark of the first period with Scott Swanson (Wheaton, Ill.) firing a low wrist shot from the top of the zone that found its way through traffic and into the back of the net past Babson goalie Bryan Botcher to give the Cadets a 2-1 lead.
Babson countered again at the 16:33 mark of the first period with Matt Wiesner scoring on a rebound off an assist from Jack Nisbet to tie the game at 2-2. Wiesner tucked the puck behind Aubrun on the back door.
Ouderkirk capped the wild first period scoring with his team-leading 14th goal of the season off a cheeky pass from Lewis to the right and Ouderkirk snapped the puck home to make it 3-2 Norwich with 29 seconds left in the opening frame.
Neither side scored in the second period, but Norwich took a 4-2 lead with freshman defenseman Gabriel Chicoine (St. Dominique, Quebec) scoring his sixth goal of the season for the eventual game-winning goal. Chicoine slid a puck along the ice to the left side of the cage that Botcher never saw with Matt Burchill (Marshfield, Mass.) and Jack Griffin (Duxbury, Mass.) picking up assists on the goal.
Babson pulled to within one at the 14:22 mark of the third period with a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play setup for a power play goal by Nick Rosa to cut the lead to 4-3. The goal was Rosa's 14th of the season and he potted the puck into the net from the top of the crease after a pretty set up from Egan and Black.
Jordan Hall (Anchorage, Alaska) sealed the game with an empty net goal at the 18:25 mark for his 10th goal of the season.
Norwich avenged its last playoff meeting with Babson as the Beavers beat NU 5-0 in the NEHC Semifinals in 2016 in Babson Park. The Cadets now hold a 44-25-7 lead in the all-time series with Babson as well.
Norwich will now face Hobart for the second straight year in the NEHC Championship game. Hobart defeated Norwich 3-0 in last year's title game at Kreitzberg Arena to win the league in its first year in it. Hobart beat Norwich three times last year in Kreitzberg Arena.
Norwich has won both of the previous two meetings this season though with a 3-1 win at home on Nov. 5 and 4-2 win in Geneva on Jan. 11.