LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The NCAA Division III men’s hockey championship comes down to Oswego and Wisconsin-Eau Claire. It’s the second year in a row their respective conferences will be battling for all the marbles.
For Eau Claire, it will be a first and a last. After competing in their first NCAA semifinal, a 5-1 victory over Utica on Friday, the Blugolds will be competing in their first championship game. On the flip side, it will be the last NCHA team to ever compete in the NCAA.
The Northern Collegiate Hockey Association will be disbanding after this season for men’s hockey (the women’s league will continue in reduced form). Eau Claire is one of the reasons why. The five Wisconsin state schools, members of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in most of their sports, decided to leave the NCHA and play hockey under the WIAC umbrella. The remaining two NCHA schools, St. Norbert and St. Scholastica, will join the MCHA next season.
Thus, the conference which was formed in 1980 and has won 11 Division III national titles by five different schools (Bemidji State, Wisconsin-River Falls, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Superior and St. Norbert), will be no more once the final horn is sounded Saturday night in an arena made famous by an event in 1980.
Thus, Eau Claire will attempt to become the 12th national champion and sixth school to do so in the NCHA swan song. The Blugolds will be facing a team, like Utica, they have never played before.
“Another team we don’t know much about,” Eau Claire coach Matt Loen said. “It’s going to be a fun game. They’re experienced, been there, done that, for quite a few years for coach Ed [Gosek]. We’re looking forward to a really good game.”
It’s that experience that Oswego and Gosek are hoping will be to their advantage. The Lakers have played in the championship game four times, winning it in 2007. More importantly, they have seen a lot of NCAA success recently, reaching the semifinal for the fourth straight year, and will be taking last year’s championship failure as a lesson learned.
“The guys are getting a bit to eat here at the convention center and going right back to the Olympic Training Center,” Gosek said after their 6-3 semifinal win over Norwich. “In the past, we’ve allowed them briefly to go to an alumni party. But our focus this year is to get them back, get them rested and refocused. Get as much physical rest, but as we learned, as much mental rest, so you let your mind to relax and unwind. I think those will be the keys. Hopefully, tomorrow it will help us bring our ‘A’ game. We didn’t feel we had the jump last year in the championship game with St. Norbert. That’s all you can ask. We hope for a good performance.”
When Loen was jokingly asked if he would watch video of last year’s final game to see how St. Norbert stopped Oswego, he laughed and said, “No, but I might put a phone call into Coach [Tim] Coghlin.”
Oswego will be going for its second national title and fourth for its conference, the SUNYAC.
Eau Claire will be trying for its first championship, while closing out the NCHA as champions.