by Matthew Webb
LEWISTON, Maine. – For the third time in the past four years St. Norbert College claimed the NCAA Division III Men's Ice Hockey national championship as the Green Knights topped in-state rival UW-Stevens Point 3-1 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
"It was a stressful night," said St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin. "Stevens Point is a heck of a team obviously and we saw them get better and better as the game went along."
|Joe Perry was named the
tournament's Most Outstanding Player while winning his third
Photo: Eric Gulseth
"I thought it was awesome, exciting and fast-paced," added UW-Stevens Point head coach Chris Brooks. "That was two great hockey teams going back and forth all night."
The win marks the fourth national championship in program history for St. Norbert, who also scored titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012. It also caps off the careers of seven seniors who ended three of their four seasons with the Green Knights as national champions.
"Ever since we lost last year it was such a huge disappointment
– especially losing to the team that eventually won it,"
said senior and tournament Most Valuable Player Joe Perry.
"To be able to come back this year, win every game we needed
to win and end up on top...I'm just at a loss for words. I
can't believe we did it -- it's the best feeling in the world."
The two traded scoring chances in the opening minutes of the game as Stevens Point's Lawrence Cornellier rang a post at the 4:30 mark and St. Norbert's Michael Hill did the same at 7:10. A slashing penalty on Stevens Point's Nick D'avolio at 8:36 handed St. Norbert its first power play of the night, but the Green Knights took a tripping penalty of their own near the end of the two minute advantage which handed the Pointers their first opportunity with an extra skater.
At the 13:06 mark of the first, St. Norbert took advantage of a beautiful drop pass by Tyler Zepeda on a two-on-two rush to take a 1-0 lead. Zepeda's pass found Joe Perry, who skated behind the net and beat Stevens Point netminder Brandon Jaeger to the far post and buried a wraparound shot to give the Knights the lead.
A mere eleven seconds later it was 2-0 St. Norbert as a Blake Thompson shot from near the blue line skipped its way through traffic before being deflected by Eric Cooper past Jaeger and into the back of the Stevens Point net. St. Norbert was whistled for three penalties in the second period, but killed off all three Stevens Point power play chances in the period and took its 2-0 lead into the second intermission. The Green Knights' penalty killers were a perfect four-for-four on the night.
"We got out early and played with the lead most of the night," Coghlin said. "When we've been able to do that we make other teams have to challenge and I think our structure, and our players and our goaltending allows us to do some things that make it difficult."
St. Norbert had a golden opportunity to extend the lead as a trip on Stevens Point's Scott Henegar at the 14:33 mark handed the Green Knights another power play, but the Pointers' penalty killers and Jaeger held firm and maintained the 2-0 deficit. After the penalty expired the Pointers turned in a strong final few minutes of the period but were unable to score and the Green Knights took the 2-0 lead into the first intermission. St. Norbert held a 10-7 shot advantage in the period.
Jaeger made 71 saves on the weekend, including 26 in the
championship game, but St. Norbert's three Saturday goals stood
Photo: Eric Gulseth
The second period ticked by scoreless, thanks in large part to a St. Norbert penalty kill unit who, along with netminder David Jacobson, killed off three Stevens Point power plays in the period. St. Norbert held a 12-7 shot advantage in the frame which increased its edge to 22-14 on the night, but the Pointers were slowly able to apply more and more pressure as the period wore on.
"We just told the guys to trust themselves," Brooks said. "We just wanted to stay the course."
The Pointers made it a game just 45 seconds into the third period as Joe Kalisz found Garrett Ladd driving to the net and Ladd beat Jacobson to make it a 2-1 game, but the Green Knights' reclaimed the lead at the 5:47 mark of the frame as Marian Fiala blasted a slap shot from the left point past Jaeger to make it a 3-1 game.
"In the second period and the beginning of the third they were pressuring at times and we couldn't really work it up high, so we ended up getting it high, and to be honest I pretty much closed my eyes and don't really remember the rest," Fiala said.
From there, as is the trademark of all championship St. Norbert teams, the Green Knights were able to lock down and keep Stevens Point off the board despite the fact the Pointers continued to be able to apply pressure.
"Every game has its ebb and flow," Coghlin said. "We've lived through that all season and the resiliency of our group has been that there's never been anybody who has pushed so hard on us that we haven't been able to respond."
"Tonight was different, and yeah our guys responded when [Stevens Point] pushed. The structure, integrity, where we play positionally and the way guys battle, I thought David [Jacobson] was in position to see most everything. They had three or four chances that were "wow" chances and in those instances David was huge, which is what we've come to expect from him."
Jacobson made 23 stops on the night to get the win, and it was a
win that solidifies his spot in St. Norbert history as the
first Green Knights goaltender to win two national titles.
While Stevens Point missed out on the program's fifth national title, the national runner-up closes out its season at 22-6-2 and has made tremendous strides in Brooks' first three seasons, and the future remains bright as the Pointers lose just of a sliver of this year's roster to graduation.
"I'm extremely proud of this group and how much progress they made in a short period of time," Brooks said. ""There are so many positives to look at. For me, I'm looking at the part so many people have played to get this program to where it is right now, and my goal is to realize how crucial they were in that part of the process."
"I'm so proud of what these guys accomplished and yeah I'm disappointed, but the sun is going to come up in the morning -- it's ok."
Meanwhile, St. Norbert heads back to De Pere and to an arena that is already out of room for banners with the hardware in-tow for the fourth time. Three seniors - Joe Perry, Reid
|St. Norbert's four captains:
(from left to right) Brandon Hoogenboom, Reid Campbell, Joe Perry,
and Patrick McCadden.
Photo: Eric Gulseth
Campbell, and Brandon Hoogenboom - played a hand in raising two of the program's first three championship banners, and they finish their careers by bringing home yet another.
"This senior class, led by Joe [Perry] is just a very unique group of kids that came through here as freshmen and played such impactful roles as freshmen and they won a national championship," Coghlin said.
"As sophomores they were already taking on the leadership qualities we have seen them exemplify in the classroom, the weight room and on the ice. Last year was obviously very disappointing to lose to the eventual national champions there was a sort of bitterness to it, and for them to come back and demonstrate what they have...in my 20 plus years of doing this I've never seen a class quite like this."