SOUTH BURLINGTON–Dylan Columbia's goal twenty-four seconds into the second overtime propelled the North Country Falcons past South Burlington 5-4 in the Metro Division quarter-finals on Saturday.
"Oh my God, you can't describe it," said Columbia about the goal, "I was overwhelmed with joy... it was the greatest feeling in the world."
Setting up Columbia was Logan Fortier, who was in on all the scoring Saturday, and he had the same reaction.
"I can't describe this," said Fortier moments after the game, "I've dreamed of this since I was four years old."
"These guys have been working really hard, and we are playing like we know we can beat anybody and it is a fantastic feeling to be back in the final four," said coach Andrew Roy.
Columbia's goal was the last event in a long series of occurrences that made for a very special afternoon at the Douglas A. Cairns Arena, and we will start at the beginning.
It was a sluggish start for the Falcons against the quick moving Rebels, and the hometown team wasted little time getting on the board.
Eric Craig slid into the slot, where South Burlington prefers to do most of its' damage, and one-timed the puck past Chris Bronson just 1:12 into the game.
The Rebels utilized their strong breakout and crisp passing to stay out of their own zone and spend the bulk of the first in the North Country end where they put twenty shots on Bronson.
"We came out with some bus legs, but Chris Bronson was amazing, He was the difference for us tonight," said Roy.
North Country would eventually put four shots on South Burlington's Nate Young, but it was 1-0 Rebels at the end of one.
In the second, SBUHS continued to buzz around the North Country end. Five and half minutes into the period their hard work paid off, as a lucky bounce off of a Falcon leg directed the puck into the back of the net, and it was 2-0 Rebels.
Chris Weinheimer would be credited with the goal.
The Falcons finally cracked the score sheet in the period's eleventh minute.
While on the power-play, they were able to get the puck up high to Ebin Fournier, who in turn sent it over to Fortier who fired the puck through a maze of players into the far left corner of the net.
The goal gave the Falcons life, but it also gave So. Burlington energy, and two minutes later, set up by Weinheimer and Bernie Thibeault, Charles Hall one-timed another shot past Bronson, restoring the two goal advantage, and sending the Rebels into the second intermission up 3-1.
Starting the third it was clear, North Country needed goals and they needed them fast.
Fortier cruised into the South Burlington end and sniped home another low shot to make it 3-2.
Said Fortier on his play in regulation, "I was shooting the puck, getting it on net, crashing, and I got a little bit of luck, but that happens."
With the Falcons fans strongly behind them, North Country continued to play well, but the Rebels did not win seventeen games this year on just their looks.
They are a very talented team with a crew of skilled underclassman, and it was one of those young guys who would put the stomachs of the NCU crowd into a knot.
Sophomore Sam Finklestein came blazing into the Falcon end, went wide left and put what John Buccigross would call a "twisted wrister" into the back of the cage.
South Burlington was now firmly in the drivers seat.
They were winning 4-2 with less than ten minutes to go, in their own barn, they, up to this point, had put nearly fifty shots on net, and had the bulk of the crowd firmly behind them.
They should have won. They were supposed to win. How on Earth could they possibly lose to a team from Orleans County?
Ask Ross DeLaBruere.
You see North Country too has a group of very good, very big youngsters.
Ross, along with Ryan Paul are two of these players, and they, along with Fortier, teamed up to get the comeback going.
Winning face-offs is tantamount to being a successful team, and goal number three started with a face-off win by Paul.
He got the puck back to Fortier, and Logan wasted no time putting it on net where DeLaBruere muscled his way in and lifted the puck over Young, making it 4-3 with 9:33 left on the clock.
Three minutes later he stuck again, this time taking Logan Judd's rebound and burying it to tie the game at four. Fortier got the other assist on the goal, giving him four points so far.
"I just wanted to work hard and help my team out, and things just seemed to go my way," DeLaBruere said of his third period performance.
If the high slot belonged to the Rebels, then the low slot was Falcon Country.
Said Roy, "We had asked the D to get something to the net, and Ross was in the right place at the right time."
Now it was Bronson time.
He channeled his inner Tim Thomas, jumping, diving, sprawling, what ever it took to keep the puck out of the net, allowing nothing to get past him.
His best moment came with 4:13 left to play, when he somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net while a flurry of players swarmed the front, trying to jam it home.
Going the other way, Nate Marsh had a chance to put North Country ahead on a breakaway with two minutes left, but he was unable to beat Young, and the teams went into the extra session deadlocked at four.
Eight minutes were put on the clock, and it was winner take all.
Both teams had chances in the first OT, most notably a breakaway for Finklestein and a Paul attempt, but both goalies stood strong and we were headed to overtime number two.
By now the crowd had expanded, as fans who were waiting to see the South Burlington girls take on the Hartford Hurricanes filled the arena.
In a show of anti-Chittenden Country camaraderie, the Hartford girls cheered on the boys as they made their way onto the ice for the start of the second overtime period.
Twenty-four seconds later it was over.
Fortier swooped down the left side of the ice, cut hard to the net and slid the puck along the crease over to Columbia, who knew exactly what Logan was going to do, and where to be, and he lifted the puck over Young's pads, shocking the crowd and sending the Falcon team over the boards and onto the ice where they mobbed Columbia in front of a group of painted Rebel fans.
North Country played yet another clean game on Saturday, proving the importance of controlled play at this time of year.
"We can't afford to have any of a players in the box, not just to be down a man, but we need to have those personnel fighting for us, and that was key tonight," Roy said about his team's smarter brand of hockey.
Strangely enough, Chris Bronson was the most penalized Falcon, getting tagged twice in the contest, but I think that his fifty-four save performance earned him a pass.
Now the boys move on to face number three BFA, who defeated Rice 6-0 Saturday, this Wednesday in St. Albans at the Collins-Perly Sports Complex at 5:30.