by Mathieu Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- While many people don't like discussing things like streaks, no-hitters, shutouts, etc. as they operate under some assumption that it will serve to "jinx" the holder thereof, we have no patience for such baseless things.
|The Pointers are are two games away from becoming the first Division III team in history to finish a season undefeated.
Photo: Doug Sasse, d3photography.com
Besides, everyone on the planet knows that UW-Stevens Point enters the weekend at 27-0-2 and has a chance to become the first team in Division III history to finish the season without a loss, which leads to two interesting lines -- neither of which involves asking anyone the lazy sort of questions many media types would, only to receive the same boilerplate and meaningless answers that any team in any sport in such a situation would predictably give.
Far more interesting is how a team like Stevens Point, or others like Geneseo with its single loss for that matter, are able to maintain motivation and not grow complacent while riding such a winning streak.
Some insight on this front came from Pointers' senior captain Tanner Karty in the press conference that followed their 3-0 quarterfinal win over St. Norbert, and of all things he could have pointed to it was a 2-2 tie against Trine in their second game of the season that proved illustrative.
"Once we heard before the season that the number one seed might have a chance to host, this has been our goal all along," Karty said. "Not our record, not the WIAC, we couldn't really care less about all that stuff -- it's more about winning a national championship and playing in front of our fans here at the K.B. Willett."
"We've had other games where it didn't feel like our best game. Like the tie at Trine -- to us that was a loss. And we've won some other games too where we didn't play the way we wanted to play games. So those didn't feel like wins to us. We took some of those as losses and then tried to build off them."
The other thing Stevens Point's situation brings to mind is all of the previous DIII teams that came oh so close to pulling off an undefeated season. The list contains some of the best teams and players in the history of DIII, so let's talk a walk down memory lane and look at those that have danced with perfection:
Teams have closed out the year with just two losses on seven occassions and on six of them ended up winning the national title. Middlebury can lay claim to four of the seven, which is fitting as any discussion of the best DIII has ever had to offer has to start with Bill Beaney's Panthers that rattled off five straight championships from 1995-99 and then three in a row from 2004-06. The 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2006 editions all lost just twice, with the '96 team owning the best mark of them all at 26-2-0.
The 1991-92 Plattsburgh State side is considered by some to be the best the Cardinals have ever had, and it's hard to argue against as they posted a 32-2-2 mark and convincingly took down three-time defending champion UW-Stevens Point, 7-3, in the national championship game.
The final two-loss champion was the 1999-2000 Norwich club that finished 29-2-1 and beat a loaded Steve Aronson-led St. Thomas team, 2-1, to win it all. The leading scorer for the Cadets that season? Senior forward Keith Aucoin, who just happened to go on to a professional career that included 145 games played with Carolina, Washington, NY Islanders, and St. Louis in the NHL. Additionally, Aucoin helped lead the AHL's Hershey Bears to Calder Cups in 2009 and 2010 while also being named AHL MVP in 2010.
The one that didn't win it all? Also Norwich, which lost in the 1999 national semifinals and finished at 27-2-2.
Teams have finished the season with just a single loss on six occassions, though interestingly only three of those have closed out the season sporting the championship strap.
As far as the three that won the title go, Norwich again pops up and the Cadets have actually done it twice. The first came in 2009-10 when they went 26-1-4 and beat St. Norbert 2-1 in an epic double overtime national championship game, and the second came a mere two years ago as the 2017 champs finished with a mark of 27-1-4.
The other champion to manage the feat was the 2007-08 St. Norbert team that many would argue is the best in program history. Anchored by all-everything goaltender Kyle Jones and forward Marc Belanger, the Green Knights shutout Norwich in a semifinal and Plattsburgh State in the final to win it all, and were so impenetrable that Norwich All-American forward and Sid Watson candidate Rick Cleaver didn't even muster a shot on goal in the semis.
With the three champs out of the way, what remains?
In the 1993-94 season, Fredonia rolled into the NCAA tournament at 23-0-3 and won an opening round series against Rochester Institute of Technology with a win and a tie to hit the Frozen Four at 24-0-4. However, the run ended there as the Blue Devils fell, 4-3, to UW-River Falls in the semifinals, though did beat Salem State, 7-4, in the third-place game to finish the year 25-1-4.
The 2007-08 Adrian team is a rather curious case as, in just its second season in Division III, the Bulldogs lit up the scoreboard to the tune of a 27-1-1 record as its top line of Shawn Skelly, Adam Krug and Eric Miller piled up 169 points. But not only did Adrian not win a national title, it actually didn't even make the NCAA tournament as the MCHA did not have an autobid and the committee did not deem the Bulldogs worthy of tournament entry, with a committee member even going so far as to say "we have no interest in helping Adrian."
And that leaves just one, but who was it?
Ah yes, briefly mentioned earlier, who can forget our former DIII friends that formerly donned the burnt umber and orange?
|RIT's 2001 undefeated run came to a crashing halt with a 6-2 championship game loss, at home, to Plattsburgh State.
Photo: Remy Babineaux
The 2000-01 Rochester Institute of Technology team stands as one of the most prolific in Division III history. Led by Mike and Pete Bournazakis' 71 and 67 points, respectively, the Tigers averaged 7.24 goals per game and steamrolled their way to a 22-0-1 regular season mark. RIT was so offensively dominant that 11 skaters posted 25 points or more, with two in the 30's, two in the 40's, one in the 50's, two in the 60', and one over 70. Jerry Galway, the Tigers' top scoring defenseman, finished the season with 58 points.
RIT hardly slowed down in the ECAC West playoffs and NCAA quarterfinals where it won four more times by a combined score of 35-6 to run its record to 26-0-1.
In the Frozen Four at its home rink, a 5-2 semifinal win over UW-River Falls set the table for the Tigers to win it all and finish the year as the first undefeated team in DIII history. Awaiting in the final was Plattsburgh State -- the same Plattsburgh that RIT went on the road and hammered, 8-2, on January 6 of that same year.
A repeat performance was not in the cards for RIT, however, as Plattsburgh jumped out to a 2-1 lead after one period and led 4-1 after two en route to a 6-2 win.
Not only did RIT come up one game short of pulling off the unprecedented feat, but it did so in glamorously undramatic fashion, thereby crushing a fanbase that had all but awarded itself the national championship some months earlier.
While it remains one of the most impressive seasons in DIII history, the lessons are clear: the games get played for reasons, anything can happen, and the last game you play is the one that gets remembered...usually.
While Stevens Point, and again Geneseo for that matter, are already breathing some rarified DIII air in terms of their historical seasons, it's the Pointers that are in position to achieve what no DIII team before them has been able to -- no matter how incredibly elite some of them have been.
The fact that the greatest teams in DIII history all hit at least one bump in the road along the way is testament to not only how fickle hockey can be on any given night, but also to how impressive of an achievement it would be for Stevens Point if it does find a way to pull it off.