STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- After Norwich roared back to erase a two-goal third period deficit and force overtime, UW-Stevens Point's Steven Quagliata scored at 15:13 of the extra session to lift the Pointers to a 3-2 national championship game win at K.B. Willett Arena on Saturday night.
The championship is the sixth in program history for Stevens Point (29-0-2), and doing it in undefeated fashion marks the first time in Division III men's ice hockey history that the feat has been accomplished. The Pointers are also the first Division III team to bring home a title on home ice since Middlebury in 2005.
"That was fun," said Pointers' head coach Tyler Krueger. "Honestly the whole undefeated thing is just the carrot on top. It's not something we thought about, talked about or cared about. We just wanted to win it here for our fans -- you could see it here with the community with how they got behind it and embraced it, and that was our goal all along to have it here and have an opportunity to win it."
"That game and this season will go down in this town for years. It's something that people will be talking about for 20 years from now. They talk about the 1991 (championship) still. So I can't say enough about this group. It's been an honor to be part of it and it's been a special group from the start and they absolutely deserve this."
The opening two periods rolled by in uneventful fashion, at least from a scoring standpoint, as things remained scoreless through the opening 40 minutes. Special teams proved insignifcant as each had one power play chance in the first period and an abbreviated seven-second chance in the second, and while Stevens Point controlled possession by a modest margin both sides proved capable of sustaining pressure and getting pucks through to the net.
"I thought we started to have some success in the middle of the second and kind of liked going into the third, "said Norwich head coach Cam Ellsworth. "We've been in a lot of those (low scoring) games and been through some adversity. And then when they scored we changed some of the ways we did things and it provided a spark for us when we went down 2-0."
And make it 2-0 early in the third Stevens Point did as first, at the 3:31 mark, a Jordan Fader redirect of a shot from the right point by Danny Kiraly found its way past Norwich goaltender Tom Aubrun, while just 1:03 later the Pointers' Colin Raver took advantage of a slow Norwich line change to beat a lone defender around the right side before beating Aubrun low weak side and it was a two-goal game.
"It was one of those games that had a similar feel to last year's semifinal against Salve (Regina)," Krueger said. "So we used that experience and learned from it. We needed to stick with the process and not force it. I say to these guys a lot that these games and these moments are a lot like falling in love, you can't force it. It's got to just happen, you have to trust the process and stick with it...just trust each other and stick with the game plan."
However, despite quickly falling down 2-0 with just 15:26 to go in the national championship against the nation's top-ranked team in a hostile environment, Norwich did anything but buckle as the Cadets answered back with two goals of its own, both courtesy of Coby Downs.
On the first, Downs attempted a shot from the left circle and though it was blocked by a Stevens Point defender, it came right back to him and, after one quick fake, he beat Pointers' goaltender Connor Ryckman far side and it was 2-1 at the 7:01 mark. Then, Noah Williams threaded the needle with a pass through the neutral zone and hit Downs who had curled just behind the Stevens Point defense, and he walked it in and again beat Ryckman again to make it 2-2.
"We've been at that point during the year where we've been down 2-0 and we really don't let it phase us as a group," Downs said. "We kind of rally around each other, pick each up and just support each other. On the first goal I got a lucky bounce and on the second one Willie just gave me an unbelievable pass and I just had to score the goal."
Up next, overtime.
"Any time you win a championship you go through the ups and down throughout the season, throughout each game, throughout periods, so it was just a matter of 'hey, we gotta go through it so let's handle it and take control of it and not let it take control of us," said Stevens Point senior captain Tanner Karty. "(Norwich is) a great team, they made it this far for a reason so we knew they just weren't going to keel over and give it to us. We expected a push and they had a great push and obviously tied it up and made overtime."
Both the Pointers and Cadets threatened in the opening four minutes of the extra session, but as it wore on the Stevens Point pressure started to exert its toll and it was able to hold the Norwich zone for fairly significant stretches. The Pointers ended up with a 9-4 shot edge in overtime, and it was the ninth one that proved to be the one that ended the 2019 Division III season.
UW-Stevens Point seniors (L to R): Tanner Karty, Ryan Bittner, Ethan Strong, B.J. Duffin, Stephan Beauvais
Photo: Doug Sasse, d3photography.com
After Raver disrupted a Norwich breakout along the left wall, the puck caromed to Stephan Beauvais who immediately worked it cross-ice down the blue line to Quagliata, who had jumped the play and was on his way into the Norwich zone. Quagliata waited out Aubrun, and when he went down Quagliata's shot went high near-side corner over Aubrun's glove and the Pointers were champions.
"I never would have thought it would have been me, but I got my opportunity and luckily for me he went down to his knees and I ended up finding a corner," Quagliata said. "I remember screaming a lot and then getting mauled and really, blacked out for a bit but that's a special moment for the rest of my life."
Aubrun finished with 42 saves for Norwich, which finished its season at 23-5-3 and rode a 19-game unbeaten streak into Saturday's title game despite opening the year just 6-4-1. The national runner-up finish is the Cadets' second.
"Pretty raw emotion right now to come up here, but I'm incredibly proud of our group," Ellsworth said. "They put pressure on us and to go down 2-0 in the third, on the road, in their barn and to come back, I think it shows the character and resiliency of our team and why we were playing in this game. I'm just really proud of the men in our room."
Ryckman made 26 saves for Stevens Point, which goes out as 2019 champs and did it in about the most storybook way possible: undefeated, on its own ice, in front of its own fans, and in overtime.
"It's the best -- the best ever," Beauvais, a senior captain, said. "You couldn't have scripted a better ending to our senior year and a better ending for this team. To win it at home in front of our crazy fans that were loud and screaming, and to win it in overtime, too. It was so crazy and to do it for the city, the students, and for everybody who has supported this team -- it was a special feeling to be able to win it in front of them tonight and definitely something we will never forget."
After Norwich rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime, UW-Stevens Point's Steven Quagliata netted the game-winner to hand the Pointers a 3-2 win and their sixth national championship.
Photo: Doug Sasse, d3photography.com
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