GORHAM—Norwich sprang out early at USM on Saturday afternoon, March 17, grabbing the game’s first three goals and never looking back. The Cadets led 9-3 to start the fourth quarter, but a strong Huskies’ run in the waning minutes cut their deficit to 10-6 at the final buzzer.
“We knew the Cadets are a very athletic team whose offense features a great combination of quick, shifty dodgers with bigger shooters,” said USM Head Coach Sam Lane.
The USM roster features athletes from as far away as Colorado and British Columbia, though most of the hometowns peppering it sit squarely here in New England. Locals like Caleb Dolloff (Gorham), Cam Thibault (Scarborough) and Sam Hornblower (Portland) all figure into the team’s efforts.
The scoring started slowly: Just two goals, both by the Cadets, dotted the opening stretch. The first goal of the second quarter, another Norwich notch, didn’t come until 5:49 remained. The Huskies never found the back of the net until 2:21, when Bryce Randall (Portland, Maine/Deering) scored on an assist by Joe Cullinan (Contoocook, New Hampshire/Hopkinton).
“Our defensive strategy was to play passive, on-ball d,” Lane said, “avoiding the temptation to jump at the first move and change of direction while preventing the need to slide, which would open their shooters. This worked well for most of the game, even when playing defense for the entire first quarter, only giving up two goals.”
“Offensively, they slide aggressively,” Lane continued. “We tried to stretch their slides but we often found ourselves too tight, which caused us to rush passes, turning the ball over too often.”
Barely a minute later, USM struck again, Seth Wing (West Gardiner, Maine) doing the honors on a Robert Pini (Natck, Massachusettes) feed. The Huskies were heating up, but could they maintain their pace?
Cadet Jack Anzalone (Ridgwood, New Jersey) hashed the last point of the half with 30 seconds to play, earning Norwich a 4-2 advantage at the break. However, Paul Leonardo (Groton, Mass./Groton-Dunstable) struck for the Huskies to start the third.
Unfortunately, the Cadets then seized control: Norwich assembled a five-goal streak that extended into the fourth to leave USM behind at 9-3.
“We were on defense most of the first half so changes were slight,” Lane said, asked about his halftime adjustments. “Longer possessions on offense, different slide options on d, and rotating our faceoff men were the notable changes.”
The Huskies woke up once again as the fourth wore on, outpacing their guests 3-2 — but 3-2 would hardly be enough. Steve Gilbert (Litchfield, Maine/Oak Hill), Nate DelGiudice (Oakland, Maine/Messalonskee) and Randall all contributed to USM’s run, but the sun set on a 10-6 final nevertheless.
USM goalie Zach Bessette (Readfield, Maine/Maranacook) recorded 13 saves. The Huskies committed 25 turnovers to Norwich’s 18, but won 10 of 19 faceoffs. They grabbed 32 ground balls to the Cadets’ 35 and went 15-21 on clears (versus Norwich’s 17-19). Critically, USM went a mere 1-9 in man-up situations, while Norwich went 3-4.
“Shooting,” Lane said when asked what cost his guys in the end. “We took 40-plus shots but only hit the cage 16 times, scoring on six of those. Our spacing was another issue. We played too tight on offense and too tight on d. We are still practicing in our field house, which is a smaller playing surface, so my defense felt a need to slide to men who weren’t beat.”
“Ultimately, given the amount of time we played defense, I’m very happy with the way our team played. We still managed to be aggressive on offense, we were competitive on faceoffs and ground balls, and the real difference in the score was executing on shots. “
USM travels to Curry on Tuesday the 20th. They visit St. Joseph’s two days later.
Adam Birt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME
Portland native Bryce Randall – seen here in file photo – played a major role for the Huskies on Saturday.
Photo by Jason Johns.