By Mike Zhe
The first half of the season for Norwich, schedule-wise, has been like walking through a minefield.
And here are the Cadets, nearing the other side unscathed.
It was regarded as the game of the year in Division 3 to this point, Friday night’s clash between No. 1 Norwich and No. 3 Castleton State in Northfield, Vt., one that saw the hosts race out to a 3-0 lead and then fend off the Spartans, 3-2, to keep their unbeaten record intact.
That win followed ones against top-10 teams Plattsburgh and Elmira in the PrimeLink Great Northern Shootout over Thanksgiving. A tough slate? Certainly. But that’s the way Norwich (8-0, 6-0 ECAC East) prefers it.
“Especially right now, at the beginning of the year,” said Norwich coach Mike McShane (Wakefield, Mass.). “It sets the standard. You can’t have any letdowns. How good are you?”
The Cadets were very good on Friday, especially at the start. Early goals by Tory Allan, Travis Janke and Nick Poulin gave them a 3-0 lead just 16 minutes into the game, and the sold-out crowd of 2,348 at Kreitzberg Arena was rocking.
As expected, the Cadets have gotten the bulk of their production from veterans Janke, Kyle Thomas (Waltham, Mass.) and Pier-Olivier Cotnoir. But the pleasant surprises have come on defense, where freshmen Alec Thieda and Corey Hale have stepped in and performed well.
“A couple of our young defensemen have stepped in and done a nice job,” said McShane. “We weren’t sure where we were going to be with our defense. But we’ve got some quality depth back there.”
One year after a Frozen Four appearance and two years after a Division 3 championship, the Cadets knew they’d have a bull’s-eye on their back this season, as is the case in most seasons.
“We’ve always been right up there with a few other teams, too,” said McShane. “It’s nice. It’s good for recruiting, I guess. But I don’t think we take it any farther than that.”
Plattsburgh, now ranked No. 7, comes to town Friday to close out the pre-holiday portion of the Cadets’ schedule. After the break there’s a chance of another game with Elmira, a game at Fenway Park against Babson on Jan. 13 and what figures to be a much-hyped rematch at Castleton State on Feb. 11.
And if the early schedule was stiff, the team was certainly ready for it. Exhibition games against Dartmouth and Trois-Rivieres were competitive, and set the tone for the challenges the Cadets would face in their own classification.
“We did pretty well in both of those (exhibitions) and it gave the kids some confidence early on, which was important,” said McShane.
Game of the Week
Middlebury at Amherst, Saturday
The NESCAC will take a 20-day break for the holidays after this weekend, but not before leaving us with a pair of potential heavyweight fights.
Amherst will try to show it belongs among the league’s top dogs, hosting Williams on Friday and then clashing with the Panthers the next afternoon.
New England Division 3 power ratings
1. Norwich (8-0, 6-0 ECAC East)
No rest for the Cadets, who get another top-10 opponent when they entertain No. 7 Plattsburgh at Kreitzberg Arena Friday night.
2. Castleton State (10-1, 7-1 ECAC East)
Colin Murray had a three-goal weekend for the Spartans, who welcomed back sniper Josh Harris.
3. Middlebury (4-1-1, 4-0 NESCAC)
Martin Drolet scored a pair of goals and added an assist as the Panthers stayed perfect in the league with wins over Conn. College (4-0) and Tufts (3-2).
4. Curry (6-1, 5-0 ECAC Northeast)
Payden Benning had a hat trick in 8-3 rout of Nichols and two more goals in a 5-1 win at Suffolk for the steamrolling Colonels, putting him over the 100-point milestone for his career.
5. Amherst (5-1-0, 3-0-0 NESCAC)
Lord Jeffs enjoyed home cooking in wins against Wesleyan (3-2) and Trinity (2-1). Heat gets turned up this weekend when Williams and Middlebury come to town.
6. Williams (4-0-2, 3-0-1 NESCAC)
Ryan Purdy continues to show why he’s one of the top goalies in Division 3, stopping 49 of 51 shots in 4-1 wins over Tufts and Conn. College, upping his season save percentage to .943.
7. UMass-Dartmouth (5-2-1, 3-0-1 MASCAC)
Junior forward and power-play threat Phil Bronner (Wilbraham, Mass.) is on nearly a goal-a-game pace for the surging Corsairs.
8. Plymouth State (6-2-0, 3-1-0 MASCAC)
Kyle Greco’s two goals led Panthers to big conference road win at Salem State last Thursday (3-2).
9. Johnson & Wales (6-1-1, 5-0-0 ECAC Northeast)
It hasn’t just been Division 3 scoring leader Jeremiah Ketts finding the net. Danny Kaufman and Jason Pietrasiak (Shrewsbury, Mass.) are having big seasons for the Wildcats, too.
10. Salem State (4-2-1, 2-1-1 MASCAC)
Mark Macdonald (Norwell, Mass.) scored twice as Vikings bounced back from Plymouth loss with 5-1 win at Westfield State.
Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.