Monday, March 15th, 2010

Norwich wins west-division series

The Norwich Merchants stormed past the Storm Saturday, taking the Niagara Junior C Hockey League's west-division title with a thrilling come-from-behind


Despite a sluggish start, the Norwich Merchants found their stride in the second and third periods for a 3-2 victory.

The Storm had a strong first period, with league scoring champion Zane Neily Jr. netting the frame's only goal. Instead of the rough-and-tumble hockey that transpired at the Storm's last home game on Tuesday night, both teams were focused on securing a victory.

"Everyone was pretty nervous, pretty quiet tonight," rookie Storm defenceman Ryan MacGregor said after the game.

While the Storm sat comfortably with an early lead, the Merchants seized an opportunity early in the second period to pocket their first goal. Defenceman Aaron Wirth slung one in to earn a roar of applause from the red-and-white cheering section.

But as the second period pressed on, the goals were quickly replaced by a string of penalties. The Merchants were short handed for several minutes in that 20-minute stretch, but the Storm could only muster a second goal with a few minutes left on the clock. Alex Yardy netted what would prove to be the Storm's last goal of the season.

With 19 seconds left in the second, Norwich's Kris Krolouski secured a goal to tie up the game, setting the stage for a battle in the third.

While both teams battled tooth and nail for most of the final period, the Merchants' Krolouski was able to secure the title-clenching goal. As much as the Storm tried to fight back with a handful of minutes on the clock, Simcoe wasn't able to net that critical goal to tie the game.

While the Storm cordially shook hands with their longtime rivals after the game, head coach Zane Neily Sr. refused to comment on the game.

Instead, centre Tyler Norrie explained that it was more difficult to lose this series when a good group of leaders -- some who are facing being overage -- won't be returning next season.

Simcoe knew playing against the Merchants for the title -- the eighth consecutive season one of the two franchises won the division, -- would be a stiff task. The Merchants finished second in the regular season, only four points shy of the top-seeded Storm.

"We knew all season it would come down to us two," Norrie said.

While Simcoe enjoyed a successful

season, MacGregor admitted that second periods proved to be a sore spot for the team -- a raw nerve that couldn't be overcome before the finals.

"Our second period has been weak all year," MacGregor said. "We just couldn't bear down."

However, Chad Paton, a former Storm assistant coach who now serves as the Merchants head coach, offered credit to the Simcoe team.

"The guys battled hard," he said over the noise of his team celebrating their victory in their locker room. "Simcoe has a great team, great goaltending."

He credits his team's success to their relentless work ethic, but, at the end of the day, he said his team is "just a good bunch of guys who want to play hockey."



(Source Sentinel-Review)