PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Norwich is headed to its fourth NCAA Division III national championship game following a 4-2 victory versus Wisconsin-River Falls in the national semifinals on Friday night at Stafford Ice Arena.
The Cadets (27-3-0) got goals from four different skaters while junior goalie Taylor Fairchild made 34 saves as Norwich extended its program-record winning streak to 18 consecutive games and advance to its fourth national championship game appearance in the past five seasons.
Norwich struck first blood at the 6:02 mark of the third period when junior forward Vanessa Champagne slid her fifth goal of the season past UW-River Falls senior goalie Ashley Kuechle to put the Cadets up 1-0 on the power play.
Champagne took a pass out of the corner from senior Meghan Papagno, turned in the mid slot and slid a low shot along the ice that squeezed under the left pad of Kuechle.
Norwich made it 2-0 at the 14:48 mark of the first period when senior forward Tori Charron lit the lamp for her team-leading 29th goal of the season and 105th goal of her career.
Charron settled a pass from senior defenseman Kayla Parsons that was deflected up into the air off a UW-River Falls players’ stick. Charron took a step toward the net and rifled a quick wrist shot short side past Kuechle to extend the Cadets’ lead to 2-0. The goal also tied Charron for the national lead with Lake Forest’s Michelle Greeneway.
Norwich continued to build momentum at the start of the second period as Papagno notched her ninth goal of the season at the 2:26 mark of the period to make it 3-0 Cadets.
Papagno took a pass from senior forward Emily MacKinnon in the slot and squeezed a backhander through Kuechle’s arm and body that just trickled over the goal line. Junior forward Kaycie Anderson also picked up the second assist on the goal.
UW-River Falls (22-5-3) had a golden opportunity to get on the board with 9:30 left in the second period but Fairchild made a spectacular skate save to get back to the goal after getting caught cheating too far to one post. Fairchild lunged at the last second and just got her skate in the way to rob the attempt by Katie Batters.
The Cadets added their fourth goal late in the second period with Nicolette Gosselin crashing the net and roofing a tip shot under the crossbar for her second goal of the season after a tremendous individual effort by MacKinnon to set the goal up.
Gosselin’s goal came at 16:53 of the second period and looked like it would give Norwich all the momentum going into the final 20 minutes.
However, UW-River Falls would not go away quietly and the Falcons finally got the board with 48 seconds left in the middle stanza when sophomore forward Chloe Kinsel beat Fairchild for the first time on the night off assists from Batters and Brook Story.
Batters circled behind the NU net and got a shot off that was saved by Fairchild. Norwich couldn’t clear the rebound though and Kinsel won the scrum coming in from the backdoor to put UW-River Falls on the board with her 16th goal of the season.
The Falcons used the momentum and carried it into the third period as they threw everything they had at Norwich in the final period, outshooting the Cadets 14-9.
UW-River Falls closed the gap to two goals at the 13:41 mark of the third period when Dani Sibley was the benefactor of an unlucky bounce over a Norwich defender’s stick to lead to her 15th goal of the season.
Kait Mason won a battle along the boards with a NU defender and was able to poke the puck toward middle of the ice, the puck hopped over Brittany Sharman’s stick springing Sibley in alone on the Norwich goalie. Fairchild got a piece of the puck but it slithered between her pad and glove and into the bottom right corner of the net to make it 4-2 Norwich.
The Cadets buckled down though from there and weathered the storm despite UW-River Falls having a stranglehold on the puck possession down the stretch. The Falcons were able to pull Kuechle for the final 35 seconds in desperation to try and make up the deficit. However, Norwich would not be denied as the final buzzer sounded with Norwich holding on for the 4-2 victory.
Fairchild won her ninth consecutive start to improve to 15-2-0 on the season and keep Norwich’s perfect record alive in national semifinal game appearances. Kuechle finished with 23 saves for the Falcons to fall to 18-3-3.
Norwich will now face Lake Champlain-rival Plattsburgh State (27-1-1) in the 2014 NCAA Division III nNational championship game at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night.
The Cadets lost both times to Plattsburgh this season by scores of 6-0, including in their season opener at Kreitzberg Arena on Nov. 2. Plattsburgh leads the all-time series 5-4-1, including three wins in a row.