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Wakefield’s Chris Czarnota stepped up for Norwich hockey

Norwich University senior Chris Czarnota of Wakefield has backstopped the team during its stretch run this season.

Mark Collier/ Norwich University

Norwich University senior Chris Czarnota of Wakefield has backstopped the team during its stretch run this season.

Wakefield’s Czarnota is net gain at Norwich

Chris Czarnota secured a roster spot. Barely.

Norwich University men’s hockey coach Mike McShane needed a third goalie. And so the Wakefield native recruited in familiar territory and found the overlooked goalie in his former backyard.

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Czarnota, a 2010 graduate of Wakefield High, where he was a standout for the Warrior hockey team, had a chance to make a name for himself in the collegiate ranks.

Four years later, the former backup is one of the main reasons Norwich (20-6-3) earned its fifth straight bid to the NCAA Division 3 tournament, and throttled Salem State, 8-2, in a first-round matchup Wednesday night.

“He kept on getting a little bit better and stronger, getting on weights and working out,” McShane said. “He’s a very good athlete. He has leadership qualities and the kids respect him and can count on him.”

Despite facing stiff competition from teammate netminders Matic Marinsek and Parker Carroll, Czarnota was instrumental in the Cadets’ stretch run this season, with the senior (10-3-1, 1.43 goals against average, .911 save percentage) taking over the starting role for good on Jan. 17 against St. Michael’s, a 6-2 win. “I think it was one of those seize-the-moment type things. It’s worked out in my favor,’’ Czarnota said, because he was able to show the coach “what I can do.”

The family name is well known around local hockey rinks. His grandfather, Joseph “Red” Czarnota (Wakefield High, class of 1943), won an Eastern Massachusetts Hockey League championship with the Warriors. That was just the start of his list of accomplishments and heroism, as he enlisted in the Marines after graduation to serve in World War II.

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Red later went on to play both football and hockey at Boston University before helping the US hockey team earn a silver medal at the 1952 Olympic Games in Oslo.

“He played with us, the younger kids,’’ on Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield, McShane said of the elder Czarnota. “He was a great defenseman, a great hip checker.”

His grandson has carried on the tradition. On Jan. 9, as part of the Frozen Fenway series of games at the Red Sox ballpark, Czarnota paced Norwich to a 1-0 victory over Babson in front of the Green Monster.

“It was great to play there, especially being back home,” said Czarnota, a business and accounting major who may try to continue his hockey career after graduation. “I’ve always felt good about my work ethic, and just knowing what I have to do.”

Norwich’s rematch against Babson last weekend did not go as well, as the Cadets, despite dominating in shots, 39-16, were edged, 2-1, for the ECAC East championship. Despite the loss, the story on Czarnota was the same for senior forward Travis Jenke (the team’s leading scorer at 14-21-35).

“He’s played in tough games for us,” Jenke said. “And you always know what you’re going to get from him. He makes it easier for us to play our game on offense.”

Czarnota shares the roster with two other familiar players from area communities. Freshman forward Paul Russell (Andover and the Boston Jr. Bruins) is second in scoring among the team’s first-year players with a 10-2-12 line, while Mike Kelly (Stoneham and Hebron Academy) has compiled two points in seven games.

Wakefield connection on women’s team too

The Norwich women’s hockey team will play in the NCAA Division 3 tournament as well, and it will involve an immediate self-evaluation. The Cadets (25-3-0) host defending national champion Elmira (21-5-1) on Saturday night.

“It’s a tall order to draw them first,” Norwich coach Mark Bolding said. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but they’re a fairly similar team as far as what we do.”

Helping the Norwich cause is another former Wakefield High standout, senior forward Meghan Papagno (11 points in 27 games). She was a three-sport athlete in high school, where she played five years of varsity hockey and registered 158 career points.

At Norwich, she carved out her role quickly: she was the team’s Most Improved Player in 2010-11, and has steadily contributed throughout her career.

“She’s our best energy player,” Bolding said. “She’s like a little Brad Marchand out there.”

Sophomore defenseman Taylor Cross (Saugus, Assabet Valley Regional Tech) has also been an impact player. As a freshman, she led all ECAC East rookie defenders in scoring with six goals and seven assists. This season, she has contributed a line of 3-12-15 in 26 games, third among the team’s defensive corps behind seniors Kayla Parsons and Marie-
Philip Guay
.

Jeff Powalisz can be reached at jcpowalisz@gmail.com.

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