St. Norbert (24-1-4 overall record, 10-0-4 in NCHA)
St. Norbert hosting a NCAA Quarterfinal game has become about as big of a life certainty as death and taxes. As such, the Green Knights will be hosting yet another this Saturday as they face MIAC Playoff Champion St. Thomas in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
The game will mark the seventh straight season the Green Knights have hosted a NCAA contest. In fact, in its 10 trips to the NCAA tournament, the only time St. Norbert has opened up on the road was in 1997 — its first tournament appearance ever.
Though success at St. Norbert doesnt surprise anyone, this years edition of the Green Knights might have appeared more susceptible than in past years as 20 underclassmen help fill out the roster.
There is not a Rob Smillie, Maris Ziedens, Jason Deitsch or Connor Hughes type of weapon on this team, but it hasnt stopped the Green Knights from rolling up wins –especially in close games.
What weve tried to do is not make too many comparisons to the past, said Green Knight head coach Tim Coghlin. Its easy to do when you have the same group of guys but when you have a big swing of guys comparisons are being made to things the kids dont even understand.
He continued, Weve just tried to keep it real simple and focus on the clich one game at a time. Weve tried to stay on task and focus on what we need to do to stay successful.
St. Norbert is 7-0 this season in one goal games, including single-goal wins over St. Scholastica and Stout in the NCHA playoffs. Additionally, the Green Knights have won a school record three overtime games on the year and are 3-0-4 overall in games requiring the extra frame.
Not bad for a young team.
How are the Green Knights doing it? How about Kyle Jones?
The Green Knights senior goaltender has had another record-shattering season and has posted his best statistical season yet. Jones is currently 18-1-3 on the season with a 1.20 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage.
What makes his numbers even more impressive is that compared to his first three seasons, Jones has been asked to carry a larger share of the load this year.
Some days its been Kyle Jones being forced to make 22 quality stops to force overtime to give us a chance and hes been able to do that, said Coghlin.
Continuing, This is the first time weve exposed him where he has had to make multiple saves, or make critical backdoor saves and hes answered the bell. Hes done everything weve asked him to do and hes continuing to do that now with a young team.
Though Jones has been heavily relied at times, overall the Green Knights defense has often been as stiff as ever, conceding only 21.5 shots on goal per game.
In other cases its been shut-down, lock-down type defensive efforts by the forwards and the d-corps and weve been able to give up few quality chances per game, said Coghlin.
If there is one element about this years Green Knights that might give Coghlin cause for concern its their lack of scoring output. St. Norberts 3.83 goals per game this season is the lowest it has been in over six years.
The one thing we havent been able to do is outscore teams, explained Coghlin. So if it becomes a 6-5 game thats a game we havent played yet.
Coghlin has stated numerous times this season that a shootout is not the type of game the Green Knights want to get in to. Facing a team as offensively skilled as St. Thomas, however, its a possibility it could be the case this Saturday.
Though St. Norbert hasnt rolled it up on opponents this year quite like they have in the past, they certainly can still score.
They are led up front by senior forward Marc Belanger who has a team high 22 goals and 20 assists for 42 points on the year. Sophomore forwards Matt Boyd and Tyler Allen have registered 36 and 26 points on the season, respectively, while sophomore playmaker Shane Wheeler has posted 25 points despite missing seven mid-season games due to an ankle injury.
Freshman defenseman Nick Tabisz has been a pleasant surprise, especially running the point on the power play, and has nine goals and 13 assists on the year. Six of his goals have been scored with the man-advantage. Sophomore blueliner Sam Tikka has also dotted the scoresheet with six goals of his own.
St. Norbert hosted St. Thomas on January 12 and skated away with a 3-2 overtime victory, but Coghlin came away from that game fully aware of the dangers the Tommies present.
When we played them over here we were up 2-0 after two and normally thats a pretty good spot for us. They had no problems battling back to force overtime.
Elaborating, We know they are a veteran group; we know they are deep. This may be their deepest team since that 05 season. I think all the scuttlebutt around them as been how solid their defensive corps is and how much forward depth they have. They clearly have four lines that can play and theyve always been a high-octane machine.
The Tommies are no newcomers to success and are in the midst of their twentieth consecutive winning season under head coach Terry Skrypek. The Tommies experience is something Coghlin feels will definitely serve to benefit them.
They are an experienced team and they are an experience tournament team, he said. Theyve been in that type of environment before.
Nowhere was this experience more prevalent than in 2005, when the Tommies skated into the Cornerstone for a NCAA Quarterfinal game and skated away with a 3-2 victory over what some consider the best St. Norbert team ever.
Coghlin even pointed out that in somewhat of an ironic twist, that was the first career loss for Kyle Jones. Additionally, the senior leaders on the current St. Norbert and St. Thomas were freshmen in that game.
Its almost three years later now, and its dj vu all over again as the Green Knights once again host the Tommies in the NCAA tournament.
Kyle Jones remarkable career has only seen nine losses since that 2005 game against St. Thomas. Will his final career loss resemble that of his first, or will the Green Knights be headed to Lake Placid for yet another Frozen Four?
To be determined.
St. Thomas (20-6-2 overall record, 11-4-1 in MIAC)
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 10 teams in 2006, the committee has handed down a 7-3 East-West split, meaning one play-in game has been held in the Western region in each of those years.
Every time, a MIAC tournament champion has faced an NCHA team for the right to play perennial power St. Norbert. And for the past two years, the MIAC champion has won that battle, as St. Thomas defeated Wisconsin-Stout 4-1 on Wednesday night.
Stout scored first as Derek Hanson beat Tyler Chestnut at 7:08 of the first period, but the Blue Devils wouldnt find the back of the net for the rest of the night. The game slipped away from Stout halfway through the third period as the Tommies scored twice in a 10 second span to take a 3-1 lead. Nate Ryan scored his team leading fifth game-winning goal, assisted by Nick Penula, who notched his 100th career point in a Tommie sweater.
In all, nine different Tommies netted a point in Wednesdays win. St. Thomas also continued their recent dominance on the penalty kill. They have now killed 17 of 18 power plays in the postseason (MIAC and NCAA) and outscored opponents 15-3 in that span. St. Thomas has held its opponents to one goal or fewer in five of the teams last seven games.
The win sends St. Thomas to Saturdays matchup at the Cornerstone Community Center.
The Green Knights havent lost since Nov. 3, when Gustavus Adolphus gave St. Norb