Sports

Merchants’ season ends in heart-breaking fashion

By Colin Percy

The Battle of 59 playoff series between the Norwich Merchants and Woodstock Navy Vets has been exactly that – a battle. This after the teams split games one and two to make it a best-of-five series. One team was looking to take command with a trio of games this past week.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, Norwich traveled to Woodstock for Game 3 of the series.

It was a rough first period for the visitors as Woodstock took the lead 8:55 into the game. They doubled that lead 4:05 later with a power play goal. Norwich got into penalty trouble in the second period; in fact the team had the game's first five minor penalties including 1:32 five-on-three immediately followed by another minor penalty.

It was the Merchants who capitalized while short-handed when Jeremy Bomberry broke through on a breakaway to cut the lead to one 10:26 into the middle period. Riley Monture tied things up 2:11 later, but the Vets restored the lead 4:43 after that. Matt Caskanette equalized when he wristed home a point shot 4:48 into the third period.

The teams would trade chances, but for the second time in the series, overtime was required to determine a victor and for the second time in the series, the Merchants felt heartbreak when Woodstock slipped home the game winner 8:21 into overtime. Seth Lamoure, Caskanette, Bomberry, Blake Pow and Simon Storoschuk each had an assist in the game while Tyler Gubesch stopped 43 of the 47 shots in the game. Norwich peppered 27 shots on the Woodstock goal.

Norwich looked to tie the series up in front of over 500 fans on a snowy Friday night, but once again Norwich was forced to play comeback. Woodstock scored 6:29 into the game and doubled that lead 2:07 later. Oliver Wieringa would claw one back for Norwich with 4:57 left in the frame, but the Vets answered back in the final minute to take a 3-1 lead to the dressing room after 20 minutes. Things got worse for Norwich in the second period when the Vets made it 4-1 courtesy of a power play marker 7:33 into the second. Storoschuk answered back with 7:20 remaining, but the Vets buried twice more in the second period to lead by four goals after 40 minutes. Norwich didn't quit however and put forth a valiant effort in the third period. Pow scored four minutes into the third period to cut the deficit to three.

Pow scored again with 7:20 left on the clock to give Norwich some hope. The hope intensified 1:36 later when Ryan Dayman batted home his first of the playoffs. Norwich continued to press the Woodstock goal in the final five minutes, desperately needing a whistle to set up a play, but unfortunately the next whistle came courtesy of a Woodstock empty net goal with 48 seconds left that sealed the victory and put the Merchants on the brink of elimination. Dan Gallagher (2), Caskanette, Troy Lamoure, Storoschuk, Harlen VanWynsberghe and John Foreman notched assists for Norwich while Tyler Gubesch made 20 saves in the loss. Brandon McIntosh stopped all 12 shots he faced in relief. Norwich had 30 shots on the Woodstock net.

The Merchants looked to stay alive in Game 5 Saturday night when they returned to Woodstock. Norwich outplayed Woodstock in the first period out-shooting them 8-4. The first goal of the game came in the second period when Seth Lamoure buried one 6:59 into the frame. Norwich would hold that lead until the third period when the Vets scored 8:22 into the period. Woodstock would take the lead 2:27 later when they buried a short-handed marker.

All looked lost for Norwich, but in the final minute, with the goaltender pulled, Gallagher slipped home an equalizer to send the game to overtime. Hearts were racing in the first overtime, with teams trading chances, almost ending the game at multiple times, but this game would need a second overtime. 3:39 into the fifth period, the Vets found the game winner, breaking the hearts of the Merchants who saw their season come to an end. Sam Davies, Monture, Wieringa and Pow had assists for Norwich while Gubesch 38 saves in the loss. Norwich had 35 shots on the Woodstock net.

The Norwich Merchants wish to thank all their volunteers, sponsors and fans for their support in the 50th season. A fan appreciation skate and meal will be announced in the coming days.

OVERTIME

Tickets are now available for the Merchants Spring Fish Fry being held on the arena floor of the Norwich Community Centre. The event features an all-you-can-eat perch and pickerel dinner followed by a dance with DJ Brian Grosvold. There will also be a silent auction and a live auction featuring the third sweaters worn this season. Tickets are only $30/person and are available from all Merchants executive members or by calling 519-532-6074.