by Ray Biggs
Managing Editor, D3hockey.com
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- For as long as the NCAA Championship has culminated in Lake Placid, St. Norbert has been known for achieving rare distinctions at Herb Brooks Arena. The Green Knights won their first national title here in 2008, then won once more on the same in 2012 while also winning twice more elsewhere. Tonight, the Green Knights achieved another feat for the record books as they get set to play for the NCAA title for a record-tying ninth time.
|Tanner Froese's second period shorthanded goal put St. Norbert up 4-2 and proved to be the difference in the game.
Photo: Eric Gulseth
To get to that point, they had to get through Colby, the tournament's cinderella story with a 7-0-2 record in their last nine backstopped by the strong recent goaltending play of Sean Lawrence.
The Green Knights got around that hurdle rather quickly to advance in Friday's semifinal. St. Norbert got off to a flying start, netting three goals in the opening 11:33 and goaltender TJ Black and the Green Knights held off a hard nosed Colby charge in the final two periods as St. Norbert found a way past the Mules by a 4-3 score in a hotly contested game at the Olympic Center.
"They're a good team first and foremost, congratulations to Colby and Blaise. They've been on a pretty good run and you see why... they keep coming and coming," Coghlin said. "We certainly had to earn this one for all sixty minutes tonight. Starting the game we got the early one that was perhaps fortunate, and then the second one and that helped up sort of settle but it also seemed ramped them up. When you're up by that gap that early, that can bite you in the backside pretty quickly. We had to keep our heads about ourselves and make some plays."
It took just 1:28 for the Green Knights to solve Lawrence this evening. Veteran forward Roman Uchyn set the wheels in motion for the St. Norbert College attack, cutting into the slot with a hard wrister that puffed the net on the blocker side to put the Westerners up 1-0. Just 1:07 later, a fortunate play further propelled the SNC cause. Forward Dominick Sacco, who impressed at the championship site last season, batted a fluttering puck from the left wing wall that skidded through the five hole of Lawrence to open up a lightning fast 2-0 gap.
The matter tilted even further in favor of the Green Knights just past the midpoint of the first period on a strong play by captain Tanner Froese. Peter Bates centered the puck in from below the dots, and as it came loose, Froese lanced the puck away from a defender and it snuck in behind Lawrence to pull in a 3-0 lead after one period.
The good start was a plus for the Green Knights, but the Mules believed they played better than the score indicated at that point.
"It was just uncharacteristic.... that first goal was a mid slot shot, the second was a bouncer and that was a crazy one.... and the third one the guy pokes it and it had eyes. It was just odd goals," Colby Head Coach Blaise MacDonald said. "I wasn't displeased with how we played.... I thought we could have have had one or two in that first period. It looked different on the scoreboard than it felt on our bench, we knew we had a lot of hockey left."
|Colby stormed back and was able to apply plenty of pressure, but never managed to break through to tie the game.
Photo: Eric Gulseth
The belief that the game was far from over paid off for the Mules, who responded with a far tighter second period, both in the standard of play and on the board. Colby struck not once but twice to pull back within a goal late in the second period. At 15:04, JP Schuhlen was the man to get Colby on the board. A shot from the team's opening round hero, Kienan Scott, leapt off the pads of TJ Black. The rebound found its way to Schuhlen and he made no doubt about it by thrusting in his sixth goal of the season to break the ice on the Colby half of the board.
A Timmy Nicksic penalty set the stage for that total to double. With Nicksic off for interference, Cam MacDonald scored for the final time in a Colby uniform with a beautiful goal on the ensuing power play. MacDonald peeled off from the right wing corner and unloaded a shot that nicked off the defending Luke Davison and floated over the shoulder of Black for the lone power play goal of the evening.
Things could have gotten even more stressful for the Green Knights, but their leader had some other ideas. A Roman Uchyn penalty looked like trouble with Colby holding momentum off their two goals, but Tanner Froese changed that in rather expediant fashion. Froese jetted ahead into the Mules zone down the left wing side, penetrated inside the dots with a wide drive, and split the pads of Lawrence for a coast-to-coast shorthanded goal that stood up as the game-winner with a 3-2 advantage after two periods.
"They would have had a lot of momentum going into the third period, and you don't want that to happen," Froese said. "I saw an opportunity to make a big play."
Still, the Mules left that second period encouraged.
"I think we did a better job of retrieving pucks, sharing pucks, and getting them out of our zone," Macdonald said.
The late second period gave way to high drama in the third, especially when Justin Grillo rifled in his eighth goal of the year with a scorching shot on a zone entry, but TJ Black stood strong otherwise with eight more of his 40 saves, a few that came in the final moments to preserve the spot in the National Championship Game.
With his strong performance, Black has set a new St. Norbert College record for wins in a single season with his 26th victory of the season. Lawrence wrapped up a prolific career at Colby with 43 saves on 47 shots in defeat as the Green Knights outshot the Mules 47-43.
St. Norbert improves to 26-4-1 and advances to their second NCAA title game in three years. The Mules wrap up an eye-opening campaign at 17-11-2.