by Mathieu Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- A goal by senior captain Tanner Karty at 14:55 of the second period broke a 3-3 deadlock and proved to the the difference-maker as UW-Stevens Point fought off a tough test from Hobart to claim a 5-3 NCAA tournament semifinal win at K.B. Willett on Saturday night.
The win advances the Pointers (28-0-2) to Saturday night's national championship game where they will face Norwich, which topped Geneseo, 4-2, in the day's first semifinal. The title game appearance will mark the tenth all-time and fourth in the past six seasons for Stevens Point, which will be seeking its sixth national championship as it attempts to become the first team in Division III history to complete an undefeated season.
Despite the win, Stevens Point head coach Tyler Krueger was hesitant to paint too rosy of a picture in the post-game press conference.
"We were poor at times and weren't ready for the pressure," Krueger said. "But, we've done it like we did it all year when we didn't have our A-game from the get-go. We had to scramble and find a Plan B...so we made some adjustments, got things going, and got some timely scoring when needed."
"Guys stuck with each other through it all, didn't get too frazzled, and found a way to win it in the end."
Despite struggling at times throughout the game, the Pointers grabbed a 1-0 lead just 46 seconds into the opening period when Ryan McElhenie, while entering the Hobart zone, chipped the puck around a defender and to himself off the right wall, curled into the lower right circle and beat Hobart goaltender Alexander Connal with a wrist shot.
While it seemed the goal might kickstart the Pointers, it was actually Hobart that settled down nicely and turned in some strong stretches of possession in the Stevens Point zone as the period wore on. The pressure eventually paid off when the Statesmen's Blake Coffey disrupted a Stevens Point breakout near the top of the left circle, created a turnover, and fired a wrister past Pointers' goalie Connor Ryckman and it as a 1-1 game at the 10:14 mark.
"I think that was a wake-up call like that with them coming out and scoring a quick goal," said Hobart senior captain Jack Macnee. "If anything it was a good thing for us. We knew we were in it, we knew it was going to be tough, and I think we responded well and got back to our game and started to sustain some pressure. It's tough to take the goal early, but I think it woke us up a bit."
While Hobart had clearly proven it was up for the fight, Stevens Point's Zach Zech cleaned up the rebound of a shot by Karty and slipped it past Connal as the Pointers regained the lead at 2-1 with 2:09 remaining in the period. They then extended the lead to 3-1 at at the 9:06 mark of the second wheh Colin Raver beat Connal clean low from inside the left circle.
After Raver gave the Pointers a two-goal lead, play over the next few minutes made it look like things had started to strongly drift in Stevens Point's direction, but back to back hooking calls on Karty and McElhenie handed the Statesmen their first two power plays of the night, and they wasted little time converting on both.
On the first, Ryckman stopped an Aaron Maguyon shot from the right dot but kicked the rebound weak side and Travis Schneider corraled it and snuck one inside the near post to make it 3-2. Up next, Maguyon again got in on it as, while maneuvering out from behing the Stevens Point goal he found Zach Tyson coming down the middle and Tyson beat Ryckman and with 5:46 remaining in the second it was a 3-3 game.
|Hobart's Ryan Lynch battles with UW-Stevens Point's Stephen Beauvais.
Photo: Doug Sasse, d3photography.com
The goals came just 38 seconds apart.
"We tied it up and got back in the game," Schneider said. "Regardless of the fact they came back and scored to make it 4-3, (those goals) gave us the momentum and let us know we could win this game."
While Hobart had again answered the bell, it only took Stevens Point and Karty 39 seconds to respond once more as he snapped a wrister from a tight angle up high and past Connal to hand the Pointers a lead they did not relinquish.
"My mindset was 'hell, I owe the guys one as I took the penalty and they scored on the power play," Karty said. "You have to make sure that you stay even-keel, stay together, realize it's a close game and a big game so you have to juts keep going and keep pushing with the game plan."
"I had space and tried to get it on net and get it up. I saw nobody was really going far post so didn't really see the point in trying to shoot for a rebound, so just tried to get it up -- he was leaning."
While Hobart had a few looks in the third period, Stevens Point solidly held its quality chances to a minimum and fended off any potential rally. An Austin Kelly empty-netter with one minute remaning made it 5-3 and all but put things away. The Pointers carried a 13-7 advantage in the period to finish with a 35-26 edge for the game.
Hobart closes out its season with a 21-8-2 mark, and while it came up a tad short from capturing the program's first national title it can hang its hat on a season that included qualifying for its fifth-straight NCAA tournament and making it to its third Frozen Four.
"I thought there were moments in the game I'd like to have back," said Hobart head coach Mark Taylor. "But I thought there were a lot of things we did well and there were a lot of things the guys adjusted to at the last minute and I couldn't be more proud of the group. The whole year we've been striving to really find out selves and find our way. Certainly the respect I have for these guys is the perseverance to get here the hard way, and I was hoping we were going to win the hard way, too. But it didn't happen as they're a very good hockey team."
As for Stevens Point, it's off to Saturday night's championship game on its home ice and in front of its own fans, where, with a national title and undefeated season on the line, Norwich will be waiting.
"We did watch some game film on Geneseo and Norwich so we have a pre-scout ready," Krueger said. "But now we have to go back and detail it from their game tonight. It's our job to the coaches to put together the game plan and it's the guys' job to execute, so it's going to be a long night for the coaching staff to get some work done."