Men's Hockey: #2 Norwich vs. #4 Hobart - NEHC Championship Preview

NEHC Men's Hockey Championship Preview, Noah Williams

THE STORYLINE: No. 4/3-ranked Norwich (20-4-3, 13-4-1 NEHC) continues its quest for its 13th New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) Tournament title on Saturday when it hosts budding rival Hobart College in the NEHC Championship game at 7 p.m. in Kreitzberg Arena.

The Cadets earned the No. 2 seed for the NEHC Tournament and downed No. 7-seed Suffolk 1-0 and No. 3-seed Babson 5-3 en route to making its third straight appearance in the NEHC title game. NU is red-hot in 2019, going 14-0-2 and riding a 16-game unbeaten streak into Saturday's matchup.

No. 6/8 Hobart earned the No. 4 seed for the NEHC Tournament, defeating New England College 4-1 and upsetting No. 1-seed UMass Boston 4-0 to punch its ticket to the NEHC title game for the second straight year. The Statesmen will be looking to make it 2-for-2 in NEHC titles following their win last year in their inaugural season in the conference.

You can watch live video at www.nsnsports.net/colleges/norwich. Tickets are available at www.cadetstickets.com. Admission prices will be $6 for adults and $3 for non-Norwich students.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: A berth in the NCAA Tournament is on the line on Saturday. Norwich will be looking to earn its 18th NCAA Tournament appearance, while Hobart will be looking to win its second straight league title and make its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance. 

The 12-team NCAA Tournament will be announced on Monday, March 4 via an online selection show on www.ncaa.com. First round matchups will take place on Saturday, March 9 with the quarterfinals set for March 16 and the final four to be held at a campus site on March 22 and 23.

The winner of Saturday's game will earn the NEHC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, while the loser will be forced to wait and see if it earns one of the four at-large bids into the NCAA Tournament. Both teams are sitting pretty in the latest Pairwise Rankings, which will be used to determine the at-large bids and seed the tournament this year. Norwich is third behind UW-Stevens Point and Geneseo, while Hobart is sixth.

THE SERIES: Tonight marks the ninth all-time meeting between Norwich and Hobart and the seventh in the last two seasons between the budding league rivals.

Hobart defeated Norwich 3-0 last year in the NEHC title game, becoming the first team to ever beat Norwich in three straight games at Kreitzberg Arena in the same season. Norwich has rebounded with a 3-1 win and a 4-2 win this season, but Hobart still holds the edge in the all-time series at 4-3-1.

No two teams in NCAA Division III hockey have faced each other more times in the last two seasons than Hobart and Norwich.

THE COACHES: Norwich is led by first-year head coach Cam Ellsworth, who replaced the legendary Mike McShane as the Cadets' bench boss this past summer. Ellsworth previously served as an assistant and associate head coach at UMass Lowell for seven seasons prior to coming to Northfield.

Hobart is led by 1985 Elmira graduate Mark Taylor, who reached the 300 career win milestone this year. He is also a six-time finalist for the Ed Jeremiah National Coach of the Year award. In 19 seasons at Hobart, Taylor is 307-159-49.

ABOUT THE CADETS: Norwich is led offensively by sophomore forward Felix Brassard (St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec), who has nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points this season. Freshman Brett Ouderkirk (Monkland, Ontario) leads the team with 14 goals to go along with 12 assists for 26 points. Brassard was named to the NEHC Second Team, while Ouderkirk earned NEHC All-Rookie Team honors.

Sophomore Coby Downs (Montclair, Calif.) has five goals and a team-leading 19 assists for 24 points. Junior Jordan Hall (Anchorage, Alaska) (10-7-17) scored the game-winning goal vs. Suffolk in the quarterfinals and sealed the Babson victory with an empty-net goal late in the third period.

Freshmen defenseman Gabriel Chicoine (St. Dominique, Quebec) (6-15-21) and forward Maxime Borduas (St. Cesaire, Quebec) (7-13-20) round out the top offensive leaders for the Cadets. Chicoine earned NEHC All-Rookie and Third Team honors.

In goal, junior Tom Aubrun (Chamonix, France) has compiled a 17-3-3 record with a 1.71 goals against average and a .926 save percentage to go along with six shutouts, which ties the NU single-season record set by Ryan Klingensmith '10. Aubrun was named the NEHC co-Player of the Year and Goalie of the Year.

ABOUT THE STATESMEN: Hobart is led by senior forward Jonas Toupal, who has 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points this season and was named to the NEHC All-Conference First Team.

Freshman Zach Tyson six goals and a team-leading 19 assists for 25 points. Junior Zach Sternbach has eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points, while sophomore Travis Schneider has as team-leading 14 goals and seven assists for 21 points.

Junior Lawson MacDougall has eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points.

In goal, junior Alexander Connal and freshman Liam Lascelle have split the time. Lascelle has been the man as of late with an 8-1-2 record, 1.64 GAA and a .936 save percentage and was named to the NEHC All-Rookie Team.

By the Numbers: (national rank)

SCORING OFFENSE-
Norwich: 3.41 (22nd)
Hobart:  4.15 (7th)

SCORING DEFENSE-
Norwich: 1.67 (4th)
Hobart:  2.11 (15th)

PENALTY MINUTES PER GAME-
Norwich: 7.1 minutes (83rd)
Hobart: 15.6 minutes (20th)

POWER PLAY-
Norwich: 22.7 percent (19th)
Hobart: 18.1 percent (44th)

PENALTY KILL-
Norwich: 84.1 percent (32nd)
Hobart: 85.1 percent (23rd)