by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- In a town famous for creating sports heroes another can be added to its list as, 9:42 into the second overtime, Brad Pung’s shot from the right circle found its way past Salve Regina goaltender Blake Wojtala and into the back of the net to lift the Green Knights to a 3-2 double overtime win over the Seahawks and the 2018 NCAA Men’s Division III national championship.
|St. Norbert's Peter Bates celebrates Brad Pung's double overtime goal that lifted the Green Knights to their fifth national championship.
Photo: Eric Gulseth
The national championship is the fifth in program history for St. Norbert (26-4-1) and ties it for the second-most all-time with UW-Stevens Point, behind only the eight titles won by Middlebury.
The double overtime win marked the Green Knights’ second in as many trips to Lake Placid, the second-longest Division III championship game in history, and the first overtime win in any national championship game since Norwich topped the Green Knights in double overtime in the 2010 title game.
“When you get to overtime, be it one overtime or two overtimes, it can go either way,” said St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin. “That’s when you have to trust and believe in your process and what you do, and that’s what these guys did. They kind of stuck exactly to who we’ve kind of been all year.”
“It isn’t always pretty, but we call them moments of truth and there are always moments of truth in every game.”
Pung’s game-winner served as Saturday night’s ultimate moment of truth, and was actually quite close to not even being possible as he was nearly scratched from the line-up due to a finger injury sustained in St. Norbert’s semifinal win over Colby.
“He was a questionable scratch going into tonight’s game,” Coghlin said. “I had an extra forward dressed for warm-ups because we weren’t sure...but he didn’t miss a beat.”
As for the goal itself, the play began in innoncent enough fashion as St. Norbert had four guys on one side of the ice near their own blue line, but Froese was able to skate the puck down the right wall and curl into the Salve Regina zone. The result was a quick two-on-two that led to Froese dropping a pass to a trailing Pung, who got a clean look from inside the right circle.
“I had it in my head from the time I woke up that I was playing this game,” Pung said. “On that last goal I honestly don’t even know what happened. I just know Tanner (Froese) was flying up that right side and I just started screaming for the puck because I had an open shot; he put it right on my tape and I think I closed my eyes and hoped for the best.”
When it came to what led up to Pung’s heroics, special teams featured prominently in the opening period, and it was St. Norbert that went on the man advantage first when Salve's Regina was dinged for tripping at the 3:47 mark. The Green Knights were unable to capitalize, however, thanks in part to a handful of perimeter shots that were blocked by Seahawks defenders -- which continued a trend from their semifinal win over UW-Stevens Point.
A charging penalty on St. Norbert at the 7:03 mark the period put Salve Regina on its first power play of the night, but the Seahawks also came up empty on their first chance with the extra man. The Seahawks went back on the power play with 5:27 remaining in the period and again failed to score despite forcing Green Knights’ goaltender T.J. Black to make multiple difficult saves, including one on a shot from right on the doorstep by John McLean just as the penalty expired.
|Paul Boutoussov's (88) third period goal tied the game, 2-2.
Photo: Eric Gulseth
With just over three minutes left in the frame a slashing call on Salve Regina put St. Norbert on the power play for the second time, and this time it capitalized when it caught the Seahawks on a bit of a slow line change. Peter Bates hit Froese with a long pass along the far wall to set up a two-on-two near the Seahawks’ blue line, and Froese found Dominick Sacco trailing the play, hit him with a pass and Sacco beat Wojtala to make it 1-0 Green Knights with 1:29 remaining in the period.
The opening ten minutes of the second period rolled by quickly and penalty-free, and also began to establish a trend that stuck throughout the remainder of the contest. Namely, St. Norbert enjoyed its most success once able to establish and maintain possession in the Salve Regina zone, while the Seahawks were especially effective with and manage to challenge Black repeatedly with chances generated by their transition game.
At the 9:36 mark the game hit a potential turning point when Salve Regina’s Danny Eruzione was assessed a five minute major for boarding that put St. Norbert on an extended power play and gave it a golden opportunity to extend its lead.
A little over half way through the advantage, the Green Knights did just that when Froese curled at the left point and flipped a pass to defenseman Luke Davison, who fired a wrister from out high that beat Wojtala clean and it was a 2-0 game at the 12:25 mark of the second.
The two-goal lead didn’t last long as Salve Regina managed to spring some transition offense despite being shorthanded which led to a quick series of shots on Black, the final one of which was finished off by Cameron Russo and it was a 2-1 game with 6:30 left in the period.
“Even-keel, that’s what guys were saying down on bench when we had the five minute power play to kill off,” said Salve Regina head coach Zech Klann. “It was just a shift at a time and as time would tick off guys were banging their sticks and helping each other and it was kind of cool to see.”
“They were all very positive and saying right things and when Russo got the puck and scored to kind of delete their goal I think it kind of killed St. Norbert’s momentum. The guys just didn’t give up.”
The 2-1 St. Norbert lead held through the remainder of the second period and the first half of the third, but shortly thereafter Salve Regina struck paydirt once again. Frankie Sullivan was able to skated end-to-end along the wall on the bench-side of the ice and put a shot in on Black, who kicked a rebound right to the Seahawks’ Paul Boutoussov. Despite having his back to the net when gaining possession, Boutoussov managed to whirl 180 degrees and sweep a shot just inside the far post and it was 2-2 game with 9:25 to play in regulation.
The final half of the third period ticked by without either side finding a game-winner, as did the entire 20 minutes of the first overtime. Both teams came close in overtime, however, as in its early stages St. Norbert’s Luke Davison rang a shot off the post while just moments later Salve Regina’s Eric Lipa fired a shot that caught just a piece of Black’s glove before floating inches wide of the St. Norbert goal.
Through the scoreless 30 minutes of game action, the pattern established earlier in the game continued to play out as St. Norbert featured a strong puck possession game once in the Salve Regina zone while the Seahawks remained formidable in the transition game.
“At the end of the day I think your team needs to be able to adapt and play through it. In some ways you can’t always impose your will on your opponent and they’re going to get some opportunities,” Coghlin said. “That transition game was effective for them for sure...but you have to be able to adapt and we didn’t get stung on it and I think that was the most important thing.”
Into the second overtime the game rolled, where just before the midpoint of the period Pung’s shot found twine to lock down yet another St. Norbert national title.
|St. Norbert captains (L to R): Brad Pung, Tanner Froese, Steven Phillips.
Photo: Eric Gulseth.
Black finished with 41 saves to get the win in goal, while Wojtala made 47 stops on the night.
For Salve Regina, though it came up just a hair short of its first national title, the loss closed out the finest season in program history as it finished with a 22-6-2 record and made its first Frozen Four and national championship game appearances.
“That credit is to the guys, they’re the ones that bought in from day one when they stepped on campus,” Klann said. The older guys took the younger guys under their wing and they bought into it so all that credit is to the guys. Those are the guys that really came together as group – in all my experience I’ve never seen a team that’s this close, and that’s the honest truth.”
Meanwhile, St. Norbert is back on top of the Division III hockey world and has a fifth national title to go along with those it won in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The win keeps alive an impressive streak in that the last St. Norbert recruiting class that did not graduate with at least one national championship was the freshman class of 2003.
“I can’t even explain the way it feels right now,” said Froese, a senior captain. “We’ve had tremendous support from the alumni this past week and we’re getting e-mails and text message from everyone. It wasn’t like the pressure was on or anything but the support we got was amazing. It gave us that more confidence in ourselves, that much more motivation to get a national championship and see what it feels like.”
This year’s Frozen Four marks the seventh time Lake Placid has hosted the event, all of which have come since 2008. It also marks the fifth time St. Norbert has made it to a Frozen Four at Herb Brooks Arena and the third time it has skated home from it with a championship in tow.
The Green Knights’ growing history in Lake Placid was not lost on Coghlin when, near the conclusion of the post-game press conference, he reminisced a bit about the program’s experiences and successes in the storied town. Quite fittingly, his comments ended as only one might expect.
“...we love Lake Placid.”