by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle 3-7-2013
JAY — The North Country Falcons advanced to the semi-finals with a win over the Colchester Lakers on Wednesday night, March 6. The Falcons provided a 3-1 win for their fans at the Jay Peak Ice Haus as they continue their drive for the Metro Division championship.
“Colchester is a very good, very hard working team,” Coach Andrew Roy said after the game. “We’ve come out on top in all three matches this year but it’s been a tough battle every time.”
Wednesday’s contest was everything a hockey fan could hope for combining hard hits, fast skating and plenty of action at both ends of the rink. Key to the Falcons win was the performance of goaltender Chris Bronson.
“Hats off to Bronson,” Falcons defenseman Logan Fortier said after the game. “He was nuts tonight.”
Bronson’s athleticism was tested throughout the contest as he stuffed breakaways, denied point shots and generally did everything to keep Colchester off the score sheet. His performance included turning aside three first period breakaways by the visiting Lakers.
“I’ve seen a lot of incredible saves this season but there were some saves he made tonight I’m not sure anyone else could have made,” Coach Roy added. “We needed everyone to step up and he stepped it up.”
The Falcons opened the scoring in the first period when Travis Tetreault buried a shot from the faceoff circle past Colchester’s Matt McBruide to give North Country the early lead. Though both teams created opportunities, it would not be until the second period before anyone lit the lamp again.
A mere 48 seconds into the period Ryan Paul snapped home a shot off the corner crossbar to give North Country a 2-0 lead. Colchester would respond at the 11:02 mark as Garrett Swan finally found a chink in Bronson’s armor and cut the lead in half.
The second period was a highlight reel of precisely what North Country must avoid — a series of six needless and/or questionable penalties. At six foot four, Fortier recognizes that size alone makes him a favorite target of both opposing players and the referees.
“It’s something I’ve had to deal with my whole 14 years of playing hockey and especially my last three years in this league,” Fortier said. “The majority of calls against me have been kind of sketchy. I’m just easier to see.”
The target was plain to see as Fortier set up in front of Bronson during a penalty kill in the second period. Multiple Lakers took opportunities to land cheap shots and underhand jabs at the big defenseman. When the goading had finally proven too much, Fortier took out one of his tormentors with a cross-check. He was spotted by the officials and sent to the box for his misdeed.
“Basically, when I get thrown in the box for something iffy I put my faith in Bronson and my PK unit,” Fortier said, referring to the penalty killing team. “I know that they are going to keep us in it until I can get out.”
Fortier is the very model of the offensive defenseman. The pairing of quick hands and quick feet, coupled with his ice-dominating size make him a natural to lead the charge from the blue line. Knowing that he is a target to anyone not in a Falcons jersey also means he has had to learn when to rein-in his intensity.
“I try to turn that intensity into positive energy,” Fortier said. “I log a lot of ice time, like 30 minutes a game, so I need to pace myself, pick my spots and use that stamina when it’s going to make a difference.”
The final goal of the game came late in the third period as North Country took advantage of a power play opportunity. Kody Halikas took a blue line pass from Fortier, burned down the right wing and fired a shot past McBride to give North Country a 3-1 lead.
North Country (15-5-1) takes on the South Burlington Rebels (19-2) in a semi-final match in South Burlington on Saturday. The Rebels enter the contest with the advantage of having won both games against the Falcons during the regular season.
Contact Richard Creaser at firstname.lastname@example.org