Norwich Merchants in tight battle for fifth place
Heading into the Norwich Merchants' recent slate of games was a pair of teams breathing down Norwich's neck in the Doherty Division standings – the Woodstock Navy Vets and the Tavistock Braves.
Norwich looked to gain some separation when they kicked off a three-games-in-four-nights schedule on Dec. 6 in Burford. Things didn't start well for Norwich as the Bulldogs scored a short-handed goal 3:56 into the game. Norwich would respond quickly however as Blake Pow notched his seventh of the season 31 seconds later. Pow gave Norwich their first lead of the game at the 14:09 mark of the first and he completed a natural hat trick 4:42 later sending Norwich to the dressing room up by two.
Burford put the lead back to one 6:41 into the second, but again Norwich responded quickly when Ray Munro scored his 12th of the season 58 seconds later. Burford made it a one-goal game again 39 seconds into the third period, but Jordan Gillis restored the two-goal lead with 13 minutes remaining. Powerplay advantages had become Norwich's in recent action surrendering four short-handed goals in the prior two games and one earlier in this match-up. A late four minute penalty for Burford should have put the game to rest, but it was the Bulldogs who capitalized on it, burying two short-handed goals in a 14-second span to send the game to overtime tied at 5. The teams traded chances, but at the 5:24 mark Derek Slaght slipped home the game winner to give the Merchants a sigh of relief with a 6-5 victory. Gillis (2), Riley Monture, Ryan Dayman (3) and Matt Caskanette (4) had the assists for Norwich while Tysen Taylor made 46 saves to earn the win.
Norwich looked to keep things rolling on Thursday night, Dec. 8 when they visited the Ayr Centennials who defeated the Merchants six days prior. Norwich was short skaters, dressing only 14 on the night, but they hung in tough with the division leaders. Ayr notched the first period's lone goal mid-way through the frame. A 53-second span mid-way through the second period made it 3-0 for the Cens with no response from Norwich through 40 minutes. Ayr made it a four goal game 5:31 into the third, but Norwich was determined not to get shutout on this night as Pow continued his hot play burying his 10th of the season with 11:13 remaining. Sadly that would be the only goal Norwich would score as they fell 4-1 to the Centennials. Monture and Dayman had the assists on the Pow goal while Tyler Gubesch was stellar making 43 saves in the loss.
Norwich returned home on Dec. 9 for a crucial match-up with the Tavistock Braves. Norwich entered the game only four points up on the Braves. A slow start put Norwich behind the eight ball early when Tavistock scored twice in the first 6:52 of the game. Mason Cooper clawed one back for Norwich eight seconds later, but the Braves would restore their two-goal lead with 8:01 left. Brandon Velda buried his team-leading 14th of the season 4:32 into the second period. Tavistock responded 30 seconds later, but Norwich wouldn't lie down in this game.
Daniel Rizzo and Dayman scored in the second to tie the game at four following 40 minutes of play. The teams went back and forth in the third period, but it was Tavistock who found the go-ahead goal with 7:36 remianing. The Braves would add one more to win the game 6-4 and get within two points of the Merchants in the standings.
A 3-2 Tavistock loss to Wellesley on Sunday would keep the Merchants ahead of the Braves, but Tavistock do have a game in hand. The two teams will meet up once more on the season – in Tavistock on Jan. 6. Both Norwich and Tavistock however are looking up at the Woodstock Navy Vets who moved themselves into fifth place in the Doherty Division standings after wins over Burford and Delhi. Woodstock sits one point ahead of Norwich with three games in hand. Norwich and Woodstock will meet twice in early 2017. The Braves and Navy Vets also meet twice more setting up a tense, but exciting final seven weeks of the season for fans.
Norwich will look to get back on track with a pair of road games this weekend. On Friday, Norwich travel to New Hamburg for a 7:30 p.m. game against the fourth place Firebirds. The team will then head to Paris on Saturday also at 7:30 p.m. to take on the second place Mounties.
On Friday, Dec. 23 following Norwich's 8 p.m. home game against the Burford Bulldogs, the team will be holding its annual Christmas Chili Party featuring Shirley Miller's World Famous Chili along with some pizzas courtesy of Boston Pizza in Woodstock. All are welcome.