L/A Nordiques’ Nick Ventura, left, tries to squeeze past New England Stars’ Bryan Connolly during Thursday’s playoff game at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
AUBURN — Neither the L/A Nordiques nor the New England Stars had won in the other team’s building this season.
For the Nordiques’ season to continue, they had to defend home ice in the second game of the teams’ best-of-three series for the NA3HL Coastal Division title.
The Stars had other ideas.
Zachary Cormier was the only player to find the back of the net Thursday and Greg Moon made 27 saves as New England toppled L/A 1-0 at Norway Savings Bank Arena.
New England is the first team of eight to punch its ticket to the Fraser Cup Championship Tournament, which starts next week in Romeoville, Illinois.
“It feels great, we have a great group of young men,” New England coach Darryl Green said. “We’ve worked hard all year and we had that as a goal and it was great to see them accomplish that.”
Nordiques coach Cam Robichaud thought the Nordiques woke up a little too late .
“We showed up for 13 minutes out of 60,” Robichaud said. “We were all over them actually and getting a lot of shots. The first and second (periods), they carried the play with their speed, their intensity, winning 50-50 pucks. They had all the momentum from winning that first game. When we (lost) in overtime in the first game, it really knocked the wind out of our sails. I knew whoever won the first game probably had a ninety-percent chance of winning the series.”
The Stars ended the first period on the power play after Connor Kennedy was called for high sticking in the offensive zone. New England couldn’t convert on their first power play of the evening.
The teams skated 4-on-4 midway through the second period after Cormier and the Nordiques Andrew McCormick got tangled up with Moon in the cage during a scramble for the puck.
With more open ice, more offense developed for both teams, but neither found the back of the net.
Cormier potted his goal with 4:37 remaining in the second period. The faceoff came to the left of Nordiques goalie Sage Broda. Stars center Ryan Gauvin won the draw cleanly to Cormier, who grabbed the puck and fired a low shot from the right point that wasn’t more than two inches off the ice, beating Broada cleanly through the five hole.
The goal stunned the 473 fans in attendance.
“We wanted to get shots to the net,” Green said. “We got a shot through off the faceoff and we had a guy in front of the net. You know, it’s probably not the most beautiful goal ever, but they all count.
Broda was the Nordiques’ best player all night, and was particularly solid in the third, making seven of his 31 saves in the final frame, including a pair of odd-man rushes.
Connor Barter used his speed to get behind the Nordiques defense and he set his sights on Broda. Broda stayed with him, forcing Barter to make his move before turning the puck aside.
“Obviously he had a little fire in his stomach because that’s his previous team,” Robichaud said. “He was one of probably a handful of players that competed for sixty minutes tonight. He’s a great kid and he’s moving on now. Unfortunately because of an injury, he will be done, he won’t be playing college hockey. He has an injury that won’t allow him to play four more years of hockey. He will do great things outside of hockey because of his character he has, his work ethic and personality.”
With the Nordiques pressuring, the Stars called their timeout with fewer than five minutes to play. The Nordiques won the ensuing offensive zone faceoff after the timeout and ran a design play, but weren’t able to convert.
L/A used its timeout with a little over two minutes to go after the net came off in the defensive zone, but the Nordiques were unable to generate a quality offensive chance in the final minutes in the scramble to even the score.
New England Stars’ Aidan Conlon, center, banks the puck off the boards in an attempt to clear the puck out of the zone as L/A Nordiques’ Nick Bisson tries to block it during Thursday’s playoff game in Auburn. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
L/A Nordiques JP Chauvin left looks to tip a shot as New England Stars’ goalie Greg Moon is screened by a spray of ice as players scramble in front of the net during Thursday’s playoff game in Auburn. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
L/A Nordiques Adam Colclough, foreground, surges forward to catch up to a pass from a teammate as New England Stars’ Bryan Connolly gives chase during Thursday’s playoff game in Auburn. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
New England Stars’ Nate Lapointe, middle, tries to break up a pass between L/A Nordiques’ Andrew McCormick, right and Zack Mullen left during Thursday’s playoff game in Auburn. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)