Sports

Merchants begin playoff quest with a loss and win over Navy Vets

By Colin Percy

The Norwich Merchants kicked off the playoffs against the bitter rival Woodstock Navy Vets this past weekend and heartbreak struck in Game 1 on Friday night in Woodstock.

A tight first period battle saw the teams go scoreless in a penalty-free opening frame where it was the goaltenders that shone brightest with the Navy Vets out-shooting the Merchants 15-8.

The game didn't go scoreless in the second period. Hardworking pressure by the Merchants’ fourth line resulted in the game's opening goal courtesy of Earl Schwartz 3:28 into the second period. Woodstock answered back with a shot from the point that went through traffic and behind Merchants’ netminder Tyler Gubesch 44 seconds after the Norwich tally. Blake Pow would capitalize on a Woodstock error the saw goaltender Keaghan Brett skate from his net to retrieve the puck only to lose it and see it fall on to the blade of Pow who whisked it into the empty net. Norwich cracked down on defense for the remainder of the period that saw Woodstock generate 28 shots on net compared to Norwich's 10. Norwich continued to focus on defense in the third period and nearly put the game to bed when Riley Monture couldn't beat Brett with no defenders between them. With the goalie pulled, Woodstock broke Norwich's hearts as they scrambled their win to an equalizer with 53 seconds left. They Navy Vets would clinch the victory 1:55 into overtime and steal game one from underneath Norwich. John Foreman and Troy Lamoure had the assists for Norwich while Gubesch was stellar stopping 55 of 57 shots made. Norwich peppered the Woodstock goal with 30 shots.

Game 2 returned to Norwich on Saturday night in front of a raucous home crowd. The crowd was silenced early when Woodstock capitalized on an early Merchants penalty 3:40 into the game. Woodstock would hold that lead after 20 minutes, but the Merchants came out in the second period guns-a-blazing as they tied the game up 18 seconds into the middle period courtesy of Pow.

Norwich would take the lead 5:52 when Harlen VanWynsberghe sniped a shot from the point the slipped past Woodstock goalie Keaghan Brett. Norwich would add a third goal with 3:20 left in fluky fashion. Pow dumped the puck in from outside the blueline that took a funny bounce off the back of Brett and behind the red line. Norwich locked things down in the third period killing off back-to-back penalties and not allowing the Vets to pull off another comeback as Norwich held on for the 3-1 win to even the series at a game apiece. VanWynsberghe, Lamoure, Simon Storoschuk and Dan Gallagher had assists for Norwich while Gubesch stopped 27 of 28 shots faced to earn the victory. Norwich out-shot Woodstock 38-28 in the contest.

Game 3 returns to Woodstock tonight (Tuesday) with puck drop slated for 7: 45 p.m. Game 4 returns to Norwich on Friday night at 8 p.m. with Game 5 back in Woodstock on Saturday at 7:45 p.m. Game 6, if required, would be in Norwich on Valentine's Day at 7:30 p.m.

OVERTIME

Tickets are available for the Merchants’ Spring Fish Fry on Saturday, April 21. The event will be held on the arena floor just as it was many years ago. The event features an all-you-can-eat perch and pickerel dinner with all the fixings followed by a dance with DJ Brian Grosvold. The team's third sweaters will also be auctioned off at the event. Tickets are $30/person and are available from all Merchants executive members or by calling or texting 519-532-6704.