The Norwich Merchants defeated the Woodstock Navy Vets for their fifth win in six games
Norwich Merchants forward Ray Munro, left, carries the puck into the Woodstock Navy Vets zone as Chris Jensen prepares block a shot attempt in Norwich, Ont. on Sunday November 29, 2015. The Merchants won 7-4 for their fifth win in their last six games. Greg Colgan/Woodstock Sentinel-Review/Postmedia Network
After an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, the Norwich Merchants are beginning to climb the Midwestern Junior Hockey League standings.
Following a 7-4 victory against the Woodstock Navy Vets Sunday, Norwich has won five of their las six games and are one point out of fifth place with an 8-13-2 record.
While the team entered the season with the strong possibility for a rare rebuilding year, the Merchants have started to gel at the right time as they’ve surpassed their midway point for the season.
“We had about 10 new players at the start of the year and I’ve always thought it takes about 15 games for a kid who’s never played in the league to establish what they have and what they can do to get comfortable,” Norwich head coach Ed Dove said. “We’re getting more production from guys who struggled at the beginning of the year and everything’s coming together.”
Though Norwich has historically had veteran laden squads, this years version has a younger side with eight players born in 1997 or earlier. The team’s added a handful of veterans to augment the youth who have started to develop after taking their lumps to begin the year. While at times those learning curves can be painful, when everyone begins to get on the same page the results can speak for themselves.
“I’d have to say our young guys are fitting into the system and understanding the game a bit better,” third-year Merchant and team Captain Zack Morrison said. “We knew at the beginning there’d be players new systems and it’d take time, but everyone’s coming along.”
“We had a lot of new people and everyone has to find their roles… There’s a lot of chemistry starting to build. You can’t expect it to happen right away… We’ve really come together as a family,” Jordan Gillis, who’s in his third season with Norwich, added. “We’re getting to know each other well and there’s no individual clicks, it’s just one big group which helps out on the ice.”
Norwich opened the scoring with Gillis notching a shorthanded goal at 9:18 of the first. Former Woodstock Navy Vet Darcey Butler gave Norwich a 2-0 lead four minutes later, but Dylan Wettlaufer and Tyler Arsenault tied the game before the end of the first.
The second saw a scoreless 20 minutes, despite Norwich getting seven minutes of power play midway through the period, but Gillis, Butler and Troy Lamoure all scored in the first four minutes of the third for a 5-2 Norwich lead.
“That was our issue at the start of the year. We’d get in those situations (like the power play) and now experience is coming into play and we can recuperate and get ourselves together,” Morrison said of rebounding after going scoreless on the long power play. “We know we had our chances, but we know we’re okay and there’s plenty of game left.”
“We would’ve liked to have got one, but three of the guys that were in the box (serving penalties) were on the power play so you put guys in spots they’re not familiar with,” Dove said. “It didn’t work out, but we stayed positive and did what it took to win in the end.”
Woodstock’s Gray Sinden cut the lead to two until Gillis completed the hat trick. Max Racicot cut the lead back to two again with 26 seconds left, but Morrison sealed the victory with an empty netter.
For the Navy Vets, it ends another tough weekend that began with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Paris Mounties Friday and a 2-2 double overtime tie to the Tavistock Braves Saturday. While the extra overtime added extra stress to a three games in three days schedule, Saturday’s game also saw them lose four players. Chris Thompson, Austin Richardson, Garrett Whetham and Kolby Francis were out on suspensions, while the Vets were also without regulars Justin Elms, Braden Hutchison and Jackson Swindells giving Woodstock a short bench.
And though Woodstock’s scoring struggles - they’re last in the league with 55 goals for and a 9.71% success on the power play - have continued all season, Norwich has turned around their season and remain a threat for a top four finish.
“We started at the bottom (of the league) and struggled, but now the younger guys are seeing wins come onto the board,” Morrison said of the team starting to pick up wins. “We started with seven losses and they might not know how to take it and guys get down on themselves, so to have this roll right now the excitement is up and everyone’s clicking and everyone’s contributing.”
“The last few weeks we’ve shown we can take on any team,” Gillis noted. “No matter how much we’re down, we’ve had a few comebacks, the team morale is high and we’re never out of a game.”
Woodstock Navy Vets 4
Norwich Merchants 7
Woodstock goals: Gray Sinden, Tyler Arsenault, Dylan Wettlaufer and Max Racicot
Norwich goals: Jordan Gillis (3), Darcey Butler (2), Troy Lamoure and Zack Morrison
Next: The Navy Vets host the Delhi Travellers Friday at 7:45 p.m. and play at home against the Ayr Centennials Saturday at 7:45 p.m. Norwich begins next weekend at home against the Burford Bulldogs Friday at 8 p.m. and visit the Paris Mounties Saturday.