Norwich Merchants take four of six points as season near's its end
The 2017-18 PJHL Doherty Division regular season entered the home stretch that saw teams try and lock down positions in the standings including the Norwich Merchants hoping to hold onto sixth place. After this past weekend's slate of games, only one week remains in the season.
Norwich's weekend started with a tough test against the first place Ayr Centennials on Thursday night.
The Merchants caught the Cens off guard when Blake Pow deflected in his 30th goal of the season 56 seconds into the game. That goal also extended Pow's point streak to 14 games.
Norwich played most of the remaining first period in the defensive zone, but Ayr's pressure finally broke through when they equalized with 2:58 left in the period. Ayr took the lead 54 seconds into the second period and made it a two-goal lead 2:40 seconds later. Norwich answered back in a flash however when Simon Storoschuk finished off a beautiful passing play by the Merchants 10 seconds after the Ayr goal.
The teams traded chances throughout the second, but both Tyler Gubesch for Norwich and Ryan Baux for Ayr stood strong in goal. The goaltenders’ impressive play continued in the third period, but the Merchants’ pressure eventually paid off when Storoschuk wired home his second of the game with 9:03 remaining in the third period. The teams traded powerplay chances in the final nine minutes, but the penalty killers did their job as the game required overtime.
The last time Norwich and Ayr played on Dec. 29, the Cens won in overtime. The Merchants were looking to repay the favour on the road in a fast-paced extra frame. Norwich rung one of the post in the three-on-three action and a late Ayr penalty gave Norwich a man advantage, but no team could muster up a game winner as the teams ended the game in a 3-3 tie.
Dan Gallagher lead the way with assists on all three Norwich goals. Pow added two himself while Matt Caskanette added one of his own. Gubesch made 43 saves to earn first start honours for the game that saw Ayr outshoot Norwich 46-37.
Norwich returned home Friday night for a date with the Wellesley Apple Jacks. Jeremy Bomberry opened the scoring with 3:38 left in the first period. Wellesley tied the game 1:05 into the second period. Caskanette restored Norwich's lead courtesy of his fifth goal of the season 3:09 later. The Apple Jacks tied things 22 seconds later, but the game didn't remain deadlocked long as Wellesley scored a mere 23 seconds later. Storoschuk buried his 18th goal of the season 1:34 later and Norwich took the lead with a 1:53 thanks to John Foreman's seventh goal of the season.
Wellesley tied the game up once again 6:49 into the third period, but Norwich took the lead late when Oliver Wieringa sniped home his second goal of the season with 2:04 remaining. Norwich looked to hold on, but with the goaltender pulled, Wellesley put immense pressure on the Merchants, scoring with only 13 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
Norwich started the extra frame with a powerplay, but a miscue sent Wellesley forward Zach Ribiero on a breakaway and he made no mistake scoring 1:35 into the extra frame to clinch the victory. Norwich did pick up a point due to the overtime loss. Brandon Velda, Sam Davies, Matt Larochelle, Riley Monture, Wieringa, Pow (2), Bomberry and Gallagher had assists for Norwich while Gubesch made 30 saves in the game that saw Norwich outshoot Wellesley 42-36.
Norwich closed out the weekend on Sunday afternoon against the New Hamburg Firebirds. It was also Norwich's final alumni day of the season where the 2008-09 to the present day teams were honoured in the first intermission.
A win would almost guarantee the Merchants would finish in sixth place, but it was the Firebirds who put a damper on that dream to start when they scored 5:39 into the game. Wieringa blasted home his third of the season 2:57 later and Pow extended his point streak to a division tying high of 16 games when he finished off a beautiful stick handling play 2:09 after the Wieringa goal. New Hamburg would bury one late to send the teams to the dressing room knotted at deuces.
Norwich took the lead courtesy of Pow's second of the game that saw him roof a shot from the hash marks 3:01 into the middle frame. That goal turned out to be enough for Norwich as the goaltenders locked down for the remainder of the game as Norwich held on for the 3-2 victory to move five points clear of the Firebirds in the standings. Velda, Monture, Storoschuk (2) and Gallagher (2) had the assists for Norwich while Gubesch stopped 32 of 34 shots faced to earn his 11th win of the season.
Norwich will close out the regular season with a pair of games. On Friday, they host the Burford Bulldogs at 8 p.m. Norwich Minor Hockey youngsters will also be on hand for a mini game during the first intermission and during the second intermission, the team will be holding its annual Volunteer Appreciation ceremony. Following the game, there will be karaoke in the blueline club where everyone is encouraged to participate and belt out their favourite tunes. The Merchants close out the regular season on Sunday afternoon when they visit the New Hamburg Firebirds at 2 p.m.
Kiley Joe Masson will be returning to Norwich on St. Patrick's Day March 17 at the Norwich Community Centre from 2-5 p.m. The musician specializes in 50/60s music along with classic country. There will be a bar and food available for purchase at the event. Tickets are only $15 per person and available from all Merchant executive members or by calling or texting 519-532-6704.