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Meadville edges Carrick in overtime to claim Division 2 title

| Wednesday, March 22, 2017, 9:12 p.m.

Meadville's offense has had little trouble filling nets all season.

Nathan Norkevicus wanted to put an end to that in Wednesday night's PIHL Division 2 championship game.

Carrick's senior goaltender turned aside 41 shots and helped the Cougars tie Meadville, 1-1, through regulation. However, the Bulldogs proved to be too much as Jeff Millin scored 3 minutes, 19 seconds into overtime to give Meadville a 2-1 victory at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

“A game like that, you can't be too upset. Nathan Norkevicus, I don't know what to say about him,” Carrick coach Matt Maurice said. “We knew Meadville and we knew they had a good offense and we kind of planned for that. Our motto was to work hard in the d-zone, and you'll get rewarded on the o-zone. I thought we played well in the d-zone in front of him, but he made some big stops.”

Meadville (22-0-1) opened the scoring late in the first period. Cody Passillia redirected a Brandon Gregg shot into the goal with 5:04 left. It seemed like just the start for the Bulldogs, who scored 20 goals in their first two playoff games.

Norkevicus, though, turned aside shot after shot.

“We knew this kid in goal was going to be a handful,” said Meadville coach Jamie Plunkett, who notched his 1,000th win earlier this season. “We lost to them in the semifinals last year and outshot them 2-1. We just had no answers. It was looking like it was going to happen again. We had breakaways and good looks at the net. I think the difference between a year ago and today was that, a year ago, our kids were getting frustrated. Today, they kept their composure.”

The Cougars (18-5-0), who beat Meadville the past two years in the semifinals, got on the scoreboard 2:14 into the third. In front of the net, Tyler Wolf stickhandled with the puck at the near post and lifted a backhander over Eddie Kaufman to knot the game at 1.

“That was just a typical Tyler Wolf goal,” Maurice said. “He was coming out of the corner so slow, and I was screaming at him on the bench to move his feet. He just finds a way. He finds those little soft areas. It was a big lift for us. We had to make a push in the third period down by one. We came out hard, and he's scored timely goals for us all year.”

That was the extent of Carrick's offense, though. The Bulldogs nearly took a 2-1 lead with 8:08 left in regulation. On a short-handed, 2-on-0 breakaway, Meadville raced toward the goal. However, Norkevicus slid to his left and kicked away Nick Frantz's shot to deny the opportunity.

“That was huge,” Maurice said.

The Bulldogs kept up their offensive pressure in overtime and finally broke through again when Millin lifted a puck past Norkevicus to wrap up the championship.

“At that point, any shot was a good shot. It was a huge weight off my shoulders,” Millin said. “(Norkevicus) is an awesome goalie. He really kept them in this game tonight. The shots were 43-14, and we were just happy we pulled through. It feels good. We made something special happen.”

It's Meadville's first PIHL title since 2003, when the Bulldogs claimed the Class AAA Penguins Cup — their eighth title in a 17-year span. Carrick fell in the last three Division 2 title games, 5-2 to Beaver last year and to Indiana, 5-2, in 2015.

“We've been there before. We've tasted this championship loss a couple years in the past,” Maurice said. “I am extremely proud of the way we played. We battled to the end. Sometimes, the bounces just don't go your way and you learn from it.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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