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UTICA, N.Y. — Like a pair of heavyweight boxers in a classic confrontation of size vs. speed, the No. 1 Norwich Cadets leveraged their speed, transition game and quick-strike offense to down Adrian, 5-4, in sudden-death overtime. Ian Williams’ goal at 11:40 of the extra session sent the Cadets to the national title game against Trinity on Saturday night.

The game featured contrasting styles, with the Cadets looking to stretch the ice and play fast, while Adrian wanted to play physical and keep the game below the dots in the offensive end, determined to grind down the Cadets. After some early chances by Norwich were turned aside by Adrian’s Kevin Entmaa, Adrian sustained some pressure on Norwich goalie Braeden Ostepchuk, only to see the Cadets clear the puck with numbers in a precision counterattack. At 14:53, William Pelletier took a pass from Ian Williams, cut across the slot and rifled a wrister high over Entmaa’s glove for a 1-0 lead.

Adrian’s Trevor Boyd laid out Pelletier immediately after the goal and the physical battle was on.

“That’s a team we haven’t seen before,” said Adrian coach Adam Krug. “They’re a team that had been skating like we’ve never seen before. Even teams like St. Norbert and Stevens Point, they don’t skate like that. That got us on our heels a little bit, but we realized we could push back. We pride ourselves on being heavy and getting pucks behind their defensemen, and I think that helped even some things and made it less of a track meet.”

With just under two minutes remaining in the period, Bryan Yim tied the game for Adrian when he knocked a rebound through the pads of Ostepchuk in a crease scramble and the period ended knotted at 1-1.

The second period saw Norwich score off the tail end of a penalty kill when captain Tyler Piacentini took a clearing pass through center ice and created a two-on-one with Jake Erickson, who was just leaving the penalty box. Piacentini’s shot was kicked out by Entmaa right onto Erickson’s stick, and he slipped the rebound inside the post before Entmaa could recover for a 2-1 Cadets lead.

The lead was short-lived, as another Cadets penalty led to a power-play goal by Matthew Thompson on a rebound of his own initial shot, tying it 2-2 just 1:21 after Erickson’s goal.

With just 1:39 remaining in the period, Erickson, who had scored just one goal all season, scored his second of the night when he fired a wrist shot from the point past a screened Entmaa off the crossbar and in for a 3-2 Norwich lead at intermission.

As expected, the third period started fast from the opening bell and the Cadets took advantage of an errant Adrian pass to extend the lead to 4-2 when Kevin Salvucci’s slap shot from the faceoff circle rocketed past Entmaa for the two-goal lead just 53 seconds into the period.

Adrian was not done with the battle, however. The punch, counter-punch theme of the night continued, this time with the Bulldogs punching back. Another Norwich penalty, this time to Nick Pichette for interference, gave the Adrian power play another opportunity and Trevor Boyd cashed in to close the deficit to one goal with over five minutes remaining in the period.

The power-play goal sparked Adrian and just 1:24 later Joey Colatarci tied the game at 4-4 on yet another scramble in front of Ostepchuk. The final minutes saw a couple of chances for both teams, but no deciding goal was to be found and the game went t0 overtime. Adrian outshot Norwich for the period by a 13-5 margin and 33-24 through 60 minutes of play.

“I don’t remember playing a team that big before,” said Norwich coach Mike McShane. “I coached D-I for many years and even then I don’t remember as big a team as Adrian was tonight. We knew we were in for a battle and after the third period we just focused on shifting some of the lines around and tweaking the system a little bit. We didn’t start the overtime great, but we went to three lines and started moving the puck better. Williams had that breakaway chance and then he scored that big goal after Pelletier got the puck to Evangelista, who took a bomb and Ian put in the rebound.”

Overtime saw Adrian carry their momentum early in the period, but neither team could muster a quality chance until the halfway mark of the period when Adrian’s Vinny Post and Norwich’s Ian Williams both had partial breakaway chances deflected over the net. At 11:40, after maintaining pressure in the Adrian zone, a shot from the point off the stick of Norwich’s Connor Evangelista deflected behind the goal, where Williams banked the rebound off Entmaa’s pad into the net and the Cadets celebrated a hard-fought 5-4 win.

“I know that is the biggest goal I have ever scored,” said Williams. “I may have had one in overtime in midget or juniors, but that is the biggest for sure. I haven’t been known as the clutch guy for those goals.”

“He saved it up for now,” laughed McShane. “The message for the team tonight is to go get a good night’s sleep, the coaches will play cards, and they can call their girlfriends or better yet wait to the bus trip tomorrow. They have an opportunity tomorrow night that they will remember the rest of their lives.”

The Cadets will face Trinity at 7 p.m. EDT for the national championship at “The Aud” in Utica.