Spartans Set for Showdown With Norwich

Spartans Set for Showdown With Norwich

CASTLETON, Vt. – Coming off an impressive come-from-behind victory over Brockport to secure the WSYB/Catamount Radio Invitational Championship, the Castleton University men's hockey team is set to square off against the defending national champion Cadets of Norwich University in a New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) battle Friday night at Spartan Arena at 7 p.m.

The two teams will meet for the 28th time Friday night in what will be a rematch of last year's NEHC semifinal. Norwich won that game, 5-2, and never looked back en route to winning the national championship in late March. The Spartans only lost two games after January last season, and they were both at the hands of Norwich.

Castleton (4-5-0, 1-5-0 NEHC) enters the weekend with some momentum after defeating King's College and Brockport to claim its own annual Thanksgiving weekend tournament for the first time since 2012. Ryan O'Toole scored with 10.9 seconds left in regulation to give the Spartans a 3-2 win over the Monarchs on Friday, before the team came together to erase a three-goal deficit and stun Brockport, 4-3, in the championship game Saturday. Ryan Ng and O'Toole both scored in the second period, before Matt Bloomer and Trevor Hanna both found the back of the net in the third period to complete the comeback.

The Spartans have scored at least three goals in five straight games and are averaging 2.89 goals per game to rank sixth in the league in scoring. Hanna and Caleb Fizer lead the team with eight points apiece, while Bloomer has three goals and four assists for seven points. O'Toole has three goals and three assists, while Troy Taylor leads all defensemen with five assists from the blue line.

Ryan Mulder started both games between the pipes in the tournament and currently sits at 3-2-0 on the season. The Spartans' all-time saves leader has an .858 save percentage and 3.61 goals-against average in five starts this season. Wyatt Pickrell has been a solid backstop in four starts with a .901 save percentage and 4.01 goals-against average. 

Castleton has had trouble getting off to a fast start in games this season, allowing 13 first-period goals through its first nine games, tied for the most in the NEHC. The Spartans rank third in the conference in second-period scoring with 11 goals. 

No. 12/11 Norwich (5-3-1, 4-1-1 NEHC) opened the season ranked No. 1 nationally, but has slipped with early losses to unranked opponents Salve Regina, New England College, and Plattsburgh. The Cadets split a pair of games in the PrimeLink Great Northern ShootOut last weekend, losing to Plattsburgh, 4-1, before rebounding with a 5-1 win over Middlebury. Five different players scored in the consolation win, led by a goal and an assist each from Jordan Hall, Alec Brandup, and Kale Kane.

Kevin Salvucci leads the offense in scoring with nine points on four goals and five assists. Salvucci netted a hat trick the last time the two teams faced eachother in the NEHC semifinals on Feb. 25. Coby Downs has four goals and four assists, while Todd Jackson has three goals and four assists for seven points. As a team, Norwich is averaging 3.3 goals per game, good for fourth in the conference. The Cadets have been strong on the power play, ranking 13th in the country with a 25 percent conversion rate (10-for-40) on the man advantage.

Braeden Ostepchuk has been the main netminder for the Cadets, posting a 3-3-1 record in seven starts. Ostepchuk has a .923 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average with 169 saves and two shutouts. Tom Aubrun has one shutout and is 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average in his two starts between the pipes. The Cadets rank ninth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 1.78 goals per game.

Castleton is 4-22-1 all-time against Norwich, including a 2-7-1 mark at home. The Spartans last defeated the Cadets at Spartan Arena on Jan. 29, 2016, by a final score of 3-1.