St. Norbert (21-3-3 Overall, 14-2-2 in the NCHA)
After a year hiatus, St. Norbert returns to the NCAA tournament for the 11th time in the past 14 seasons, and first since winning the 2008 national championship.
The Green Knights rolled to the NCHA Peters Cup title with a pair of 7-1 playoff wins over UW-Stevens Point in the semifinals and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in the finals. It marked the eighth time overall and sixth in the past eight seasons the Green Knights have claimed the NCHA postseason crown.
Despite being the top seed in the West Region, St. Norbert will face Adrian on Wednesday in a first round game rather than being awarded a spot straight to the quarterfinals. Its the first time in the history of the Division III tournament the top West seed will not open play in the quarterfinals. At first glance, Green Knights head coach Tim Coghlin wasnt sure what to make of the situation.
I dont really know, said Coghlin, who is a jaw dropping 218-34-22 in his last eight plus seasons. In the 20 years Ive been doing this weve never played in one of these games on a Wednesday. It looks odd to see four teams in our region where it would seem to make sense to have two quarterfinals, so to have all four playing on Wednesday does look like a bit of an odd schedule.
At the end of the day, however, if youre going to be successful you just play whoever is next and I think thats the mentality weve tried to drive home down the stretch. You cant control who or when you play, you just have to control how you play.
The meeting with Adrian will mark new ground for both teams as this will be the first meeting ever between the schools.
Ive never seen them even, Coghlin said. Clearly theyve got guys who can put the puck in the net and at the same time, clearly, if anyone feels like they have something to prove certainly they feel that way, too, after having not been asked to the big dance for two consecutive years
Despite not having seen the Bulldogs in person, Coghlin remains aware of what they will bring to the table upon rolling into the Cornerstone.
Those top two lines seem to put up an awful lot of points. They have some things working in their favor and they are not going to come in an under-confident group. I dont think coming into the Cornerstone is going to faze them one bit.
As far as the St. Norbert itself goes, they enter the tournament on a downright tear and are riding a 10 game unbeaten streak since dropping a 5-1 contest at UW-Eau Claire on January 16. Since that loss the Green Knights have failed to concede more than one goal in a game. As it was with the 2008 championship squad, stifling defense has been the prevailing theme, and its one Coghlin appears pleased with.
Thats a hallmark of our teams every year and some teams buy into it harder than others, he said. With this years team the lights just sort of went on a little bit after that lull and weve played much better defensively. I dont think we are doing anything spectacular but we are making other teams earn their stripes.
The St. Norbert offense has been equally as impressive down the stretch, having posted 24 goals in their last four contests. Whats even scarier is that it has been incredibly difficult to predict where the goals might come from as they have nine players with over 18 points but none with more than 28. In similar fashion, the Green Knights wield nine players with at least eight goals on the year, but none have tallied more than 13.
We had played well the week before coming off the bye and basically were as healthy as we can be, Coghlin said. Were playing a very complete game right now and thats good, but I still think we have a better 60 minutes in us and thats what we keep striving for.
The matchup with Adrian is one many Division III faithful have been clamoring about for the better part of three years and its finally upon us — and its in the NCAA tournament. Its the hockey version of the immovable object versus the unstoppable force and was, perhaps, put most eloquently by Coghlin himself:
At this time of the year its about who is playing their game the best and whether you can impose your will on the opposition. Weve been pretty successful with that and we do get the home game which we are glad about, so well have to wait and see.
Adrian (24-3-0 overall, 20-0-0 in the MCHA)
Finally, the time has come. A MCHA team will finally be duly represented in the NCAA tournament as Adrian battled through the Harris Cup playoffs last weekend to claim the leagues first ever automatic qualification bid into the tournament. It marked the third playoff title in as many years for the Bulldogs, but this time it doesnt mark the end of the road for the MCHA champion.
It was great to win the MCHA playoffs knowing there is a tangible goal at the end and were excited now to move onto the NCAA tournament, said Bulldogs head coach Ron Fogarty, who is 77-7-1 in his third season.
Despite being overwhelming favorites and playing at home, the Bulldogs squeaked out a pair of one goal wins over Lawrence and Marian to claim its spot in the field. In the title contest against Marian, Adrian rallied from a 2-1 deficit after two periods to score a dramatic 3-2 win on a goal with only 44 seconds remaining.
We knew the games were going to be tighter, Fogarty said. Both Marian and Lawrence played great and those are the types of games you need heading into the tournament. We were getting banged up and knocked around a little bit by both of them and it forced us to be very particular and detail oriented.
While the NCAA tournament bid is all that Adrian has asked for, and finally earned, for the past three years, things now get much tougher as they face the dominant West Region force in St. Norbert, on the road. Despite not having ever faced the Green Knights before, Fogarty isnt completely unaware of what they have to offer.
They have a great tradition and have numerous NCAA tournament appearances so in a way they arent an unknown, he said.
They are a well-coached team that is excellent defensively and will use that to create transition. They will work it down low in your zone, work it to the net and crash from there. They are a great skating team that is going to put pressure on the puck at both ends of the ice so the lack of time they give us something we better be ready for.
While it was a bit of surprise to see St. Norbert slated into an opening round Wednesday contest, its somewhere most expected the Bulldogs to be. As such, the Bulldogs are not concerned about the short turnaround.
Its a new season and the players are ready to play, Fogarty said. They dont need to practice four or five days in a row right now so while a longer break might help in the case of a minor injury or something, these guys on both sides are ready to go.
One of the biggest bonuses for the Bulldogs heading into the weekend might ironically be the three losses suffered at the hands of Hamline and Oswego earlier this season. As Oswego has set itself apart as a true national elite this season, Adrian hope