ELMIRA, N.Y. — Sunday’s national championship game is the second matchup for the title in three seasons between Middlebury and St. Norbert. The two teams split time this season at No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll.
The Panthers won the the first of their two consecutive titles — and their sixth overall — in overtime, 1-0, at Norwich in 2004. That year’s player of the year, Kevin Cooper, buried a wide-open shot to claim the NCAA trophy.
The two teams first met in 1999 when they split a pair of quarterfinal games at St. Norbert. Middlebury won the minigame and went on to win its fifth national championship that season.
“I think there’s a great history there between Middlebury and St. Norbert,” said Middlebury coach Bill Beaney after Saturday’s win over Elmira. “They’ve got a number of good players who can skate. I think that their strength is going to be to get the puck down low and fight for it and try to get opportunities in the offensive end. Our strength, I hope, will be to move our feet and skate and we’ll pressure them in transition and see what we come up with.”
According to St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin, Beaney has found his great success at Middlebury by sticking with a disciplined system and finding players to fit it.
“They’ve been so successful. It’s such a tight ship. You can’t tell one of those teams from the next from the next to the next to the next,” said Coghlin. “Everybody’s chasing Middlebury right now. Until someone takes it away from them, that’s just the way it is.”
Middlebury forward John Sales, who scored one of Middlebury’s two goals on Saturday, disagrees with that characterization. “There’s no sense that it’s ours. We’ve certainly got to go out there and earn it on the ice.”
Looking at the numbers, both teams have potent offenses. St. Norbert is sixth in D-III, averaging 4.84 goals per game, while just behind them is Middlebury at 4.62. Each has a stingy defense; Middlebury is tops in the nation, allowing just 1.52 goals per game, while at No. 4, St. Norbert has given up an average of only 1.94.
Goaltending has been a huge factor for both squads. Sophomore All-American Kyle Jones has played more than 90 percent of St. Norbert’s minutes in goal, and has a .919 save percentage and a 1.76 GAA. Doug Raeder and Ross Cherry have split most of the time in goal for the Panthers, and both have a stellar .930 save percentage. Raeder, who got the start on Saturday after Cherry sustained a knee injury against Mass.-Dartmouth in the quarterfinals, has a lofty 1.67 GAA, while Cherry’s is better at 1.40. They are one and two in the nation in that stat.
Which netminder will get the start in goal Sunday for the has not been decided. according to Beaney, Cherry’s status is day-to-day and depends on an assessment by the team trainer on Sunday morning.
St. Norbert’s Connor Hughes is second in D-III with 13 power-play goals. Both teams are top-ten on the man advantage; St. Norbert is second in the country on the penalty kill at 89.6 and Middlebury is twelfth at 85.8.