LAKE PLACID, N.Y -- Considering the date, perhaps it's only fitting that the team wearing its road greens should have come out on top, and that's exactly what happened tonight at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., as the St. Norbert Green Knights topped the Oswego State Lakers 4-1 to win the 2012 Men's Division III National Championship.
The title is the second consecutive and third overall for the 21-5-5 Green Knights, who also won it in Lake Placid in 2008 as well as last season at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn. They became the first team to win back-to-back titles since Middlebury capped off a run of three straight in 2006.
"I didn't even know what to say [to the team]," said St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin. "We're in a very surreal spot right now."
"This was one of those someone has to win and someone has to lose. I thought we did everything we could do to hang around and hang on. We got a lot of different play from a lot of different guys, and that all starts with our freshman goaltender."
Green Knights' freshman goaltender David Jacobson, who was not even the starter heading in the season, stopped 29 of 30 shots on the night. He backstopped a St. Norbert defense that allowed just four goals in four NCAA tournament games, all of which were against teams ranked in the top ten in the nation.
He was awarded tournament Most Outstanding Player honors as a result of his efforts.
"You have to give a lot of credit to the defense," Jacobson said. "Tonight especially, probably ninety percent of the shots were perimeter shots."
"It's unreal being here right now. Obviously that's the goal for anyone playing hockey in DIII, but as coach said, we had a rough start [to the year] and we just started building and everything got better as we went on."
St. Norbert opened the scoring just 17 seconds into the contest, as what appeared to be a harmless clear by the Green Knights out of its own zone found the way to the stick of forward Cody Keefer, who split two Oswego State defenders and beat Lakers' goaltender Andrew Hare low to put St. Norbert up 1-0 early.
"It takes the weight off your shoulders and gets you into the game when you score right away," Keefer said. "It takes the pressure off and definitely helps get a rhythm going."
A penalty on Oswego State less than two minutes later handed St. Norbert a golden opportunity to strike again in the opening minutes, but the Lakers' put in a superb two minutes on the kill and the penalty expired without incident.
A tripping call on St. Norbert's Mason Baptista at the 4:29 mark of the period gave Oswego State its own chance with the extra man, but the Green Knights' penalty killers also turned in a solid kill and the 1-0 lead was held intact.
The Lakers did break through and evened the game at the 10:47 mark of the period, as an errant pass from behind the St. Norbert goal by Green Knights' defenseman Sam Dougherty was picked off by the Lakers' Chris Brown. Brown quickly found fellow forward David Titanic, who beat Jacobson high with a quick one-timer to make it 1-1.
"I think we just needed to get the energy back going," Titanic said. "That early goal took a bit out of us; a little wind out of our sails. We had to just keep chipping pucks deep into their zone, which we were doing and that created that first goal."
With just over five minutes remaining in the in the period, St. Norbert went back on the power play but again was stifled by a strong Oswego penalty kill. Though held scoreless with the extra skater, the Green Knights went back on top at the 17:29 mark after Hare stopped a shot by St. Norbert defenseman Reid Campbell, but the rebound kicked right to forward Brandon Hoogenboom who found the open net to make it 2-1, a score that held through the period's final horn.
Oswego outshot St. Norbert 10-9 in the period.
A Green Knights' penalty late in the first period carried into the second, and though the Lakers were unable to convert with the extra attacker they sustained heavy offensive pressure through the opening six minutes of the frame.
An interference call at the 6:21 mark on Lakers' forward Chris Ayotte gave St. Norbert a brief reprieve, but it was again killed rather easily by Oswego and the Lakers then went right back to work, though remained unable to solve Jacobson.
Back-to-back penalties on St. Norbert defenseman Derek Donohue near the midpoint of the period handed the Lakers two more chances on the power play, but they were still unable to convert despite holding the zone for the overwhelming majority of the four minute span.
St. Norbert made the most of its few chances of the period as, while on a power play of its own, forward Johan Ryd circled behind the Lakers' net and found Keefer cutting down the left slot, where he was able to again beat Hare low to net his second of the night and put the Green Knights up 3-1.
Keefer's goal was the only one of stanza, despite the fact the Lakers held a 14-5 shot advantage in the period and outplayed the Green Knights for significant stretches.
"I thought the turning point in the second period where we had some power play opportunities, and it appeared we were tired and out of synch," Lakers' head coach Ed Gosek said. "Not that we didn't score, but I felt that we actually lost momentum off of that, whereas they got that power play goal late in the second and gained that momentum."
The St. Norbert camp also pointed to the second period as perhaps a turning point, while it also conceded that it was rather fortunate to have found a way to extend its lead.
"Oswego absolutely took the game back and we really hurt ourselves with some multiple penalty situations," Coghlin said. "They started to get on a run there and [Jacobson] made two or three big stops."
"The only good was that we came out plus one in that period, which was amazing."
In the opening stages of the third period, St. Norbert was able to sustain more pressure than in the second and thereby keep some heat off Jacobson, though at the 7:15 mark a penalty on Green Knights' forward Cullen Bradshaw put the Oswego State back on the power play.
Yet again, however, the Lakers were unable to convert -- thanks in large part to a Jacobson glove save of a shot by Oswego forward Jon Whitelaw.
St. Norbert took yet another penalty with 10:30 remaining, but Oswego still could not manage to trim the deficit to one. The Lakers, who entered with one of the top power plays in the nation, finished the night 0-for-6 on the power play.
Keefer, who now has seven goals and an assist in his Frozen Four career, netted his third of the night with just less than three minutes remaining to run the score to 4-1, and the countdown to the program's third national title was on.
"He's one of the most critical guys of his game and of himself," said Coghlin of Keefer. "Yet this is the time of year that literally for a while now I've been calling him "Keefertime." It was Keefertime two years ago in the national tournament, it was Keefertime last year in the national tournament, and it's Keefertime again."
Despite coming up just short of its second national title, Oswego finishes its highly successful season with yet another Frozen Four appearance and closes out the year at 24-4-2.
"I'm just extremely proud of our players," Gosek said. "All year long, as every coach says, you want to get better as the season progresses. I think we got better, but probably more importantly I think we got better off the ice."
"Our guys played hard, so unlike the last two years where we felt like there were some things missing, tonight we got beat by a better team. I was proud of our effort and we held things together, so you learn from it.
"It's been interesting to watch this team grow," Coghlin said. "Certainly from a team standpoint…this is most improved team within our program from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, and I think most of our delight comes from that."
"I just can't believe we're sitting here. I'm not kidding you; I can't believe we're sitting here."