NEWPORT–In the game of hockey sometimes you have to be a little bit lucky. Wednesday night at the Ice Haus, BFA St. Albans goaltender Andre Morin had the luck of the Irish going for him as the North Country Falcons hit two crossbars amidst a flurry of third period pressure en route to a 3-1 loss in their home opener.
"This was a big time game for us," said coach Andrew Roy, "they came out firing hard, but we adapted well and I am happy about that.
North Country came out of the gates a little sluggish to start off the contest, and it looked like BFA was going to run away with the game early. The first five minutes were played almost exclusively in the Falcon end of the rink and Chris Bronson was up to the task.
The junior goalie stopped everything the Academy threw his way in the early going, allowing his team time to get their bearings. Overall he would face fourteen shots in the period.
It took about six minutes before North Country got their game going. It would be the the Squirrel Line (Columbia, Stewart, Bernier) that would provide the spark as their hard work became contagious amongst the Falcon players, eventually paying off in a power-play for NCU.
Nothing would come of the man advantage, but the team continued to battle.
With fourteen seconds left on the clock and a face-off deep in the Falcon territory, it looked the boys in white would escape unscathed, but a face-off win and a funny bounce put the Bobwhite's Brandon Streeter name on the score sheet and gave BFA a 1-0 lead with eight seconds remaining in the first.
In the second BFA picked up right where they left off, scoring eight seconds into the period. While the score sheet said it was Jack Vallee from Matt Palmer and Owen Dean, it was actually Mike Schreiner who came down the right side of the ice and hit a wide open Palmer in front of the net where he slid in low shot underneath Bronson for the two goal advantage.
Total game time elapsed between goals; 16 seconds.
Exactly three minutes later, on virtually the same play, John Pion would find Dean in front of the net where he scored BFA's third goal of the contest. The only difference between Dean's goal and Palmer's was that Dean went upstairs to ring the twine.
"We came out a little flat, and that was a changing point in the game" said Bronson.
From that moment on North Country regained the form they had displayed in the middle of the first period.
They quickly answered Dean's goal with one of their own. Josh Bernier got the puck into the Bobwhite zone, dropped it back to Dylan Columbia who fired a low shot past Morin to make it three to one.
Bronson put the Falcon net on lock-down, making fantastic stops on two point blank chances by Connor Roberts.
Nate Stewart came close to making it a one goal game at the buzzer, but the score remained 3-1 after thirty minutes.
In the third it would be all North Country. An early power-play set the tone as North Country moved the puck well in the offensive zone despite not getting any real shots to the net.
Their tenacity, led by defenceman Logan Fortier, would push the Bobwhites to the brink of collapse.
It started with Fortier stealing the puck from an Academy player while shorthanded and walking in alone against Morin. He deked right, went left, and rung it off of the crossbar.
Crossbar 1, NCU 0.
This play drew another BFA penalty and while the teams were skating four aside, Cody Halikas delivered a bone crushing hit to free up the puck for Stewart who found Fortier, but Morin was there for the save.
"We made some mistakes," said BFA Coach Toby Duculon, "But we got a chance to take a look at a young goalie, and we would have had an even (tied) game if he had a typical first high school game."
"We were doing well, getting possessions in the offensive zone with a strong forecheck, kicking it up into the slot or in front of the net, and getting good pressure, and that lead to those opportunities," said Roy of his teams' third period performance.
Now Fortier, who at times was spectacular, showed some flashes of last year's mental weakness, but he took his lumps, and did not shy away from talking about the breakdowns after the game.
"I need to focus my game on the positive aspects and take the emotion out a little bit,"said the junior defender
Bernier would have two great chances in the latter stages of the third. The first was off of a pass from Fortier, which was blocked, the second hit Morin's best friend, the cross bar, dropped straight down, but never crossed the goal line.
Crossbar 2, NCU 0.
That would be North Country's last big chance to do some damage, and as the buzzer sounded the scoreboard had remained unchanged since the end of the second period, still reading 3-1 in favor of the visitors.
Bronson finished the game with twenty-five saves for the Falcons while Morin had seventeen.
North Country will now regroup before heading to the north end of Burlington to square off against Colchester at Leddy Park on Saturday. Game time is at