ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Plattsburgh scored three goals on its only three shots of the first period, then held off a furious Wisconsin-Superior comeback in the third for a 5-3 victory in the first semifinal game of the 2001 Division III Frozen Four.
Plattsburgh’s Niklas Sundberg was called upon to contain Superior as he made 50 saves on 53 shots thrown his way. On the other side of the rink, Superior’s Nate Ziemski didn’t stop a single shot in the first period as all three Plattsburgh tries found the back of the net.
Superior had the early jump, and their pressure in the Cardinals zone paid off with a power-play goal at 5:13. In a display of pinpoint passing, Colin Kendall started the play controlling the puck at the right faceoff circle. He passed it cross-ice to Jeff Glowa, who fed it to Eric Pitoscia at the right post, and Pitoscia easily knocked it in.
Superior continued to dominate play, but midway through the first period found itself tied. After Rob Ziemmer took a tripping penalty, Plattsburgh went on the power play.
Shortly thereafter, the Cardinals’ first shot was a goal. Mark Coletta carried the puck into the zone on the left side on what looked like a harmless play.
“We were having a lackadaisical power play,” Coletta said. “I was surprised to see the defenseman backing up and backing up. His legs were spread, and I thought if I could get a shot between his legs using him as a screen, I could get lucky.”
The shot eluded Ziemski on the far side.
Superior again took command of the play, but it was Plattsburgh that would score next — on just their second shot of the game.
Soon after a Superior power play was over, Derrick Shaw rushed the puck end-to-end into the offensive zone and passed it cross-ice to an unmarked Jeff Marshall, who slapped it into the net.
Plattsburgh would get one more shot in the first period — and one more goal, going three-for-three. After Superior turned it over in its own zone, Brendon Hodge found himself with a two-on-one. He decided to keep the puck, and blasted a slapshot past Ziemski.
Despite being down 3-1 after outplaying the opposition, Superior coach Dan Stauber was not worried. “We felt pretty good,” Stauber said. “We did outplay them in the first. I told the guys to keep working hard, keep the puck down, and good things will happen.”
Plattsburgh’s strategy, meanwhile, was to keep things simple. Said head coach Bob Emery, “Superior probably has the best group of forwards in the country. We tried to keep the puck down low. Nothing fancy up by the blue line.”
Good things continued to happen for Plattsburgh. 3:30 into the second period, Coletta scored his second power-play goal, and he never touched it with his stick. Hodge passed the puck towards Coletta, and it simply bounced off his leg and fooled Ziemski. The referees ruled Coletta did not direct the puck in, so the goal counted.
Plattsburgh had the better scoring chances early in the second period as the Cardinals started to figure Superior out. Ziemski got his confidence back, and was able to prevent the game from getting out of hand.
A late Superior goal gave Yellowjackets hope during the second intermission.
“I always tell my guys a three-goal lead is the best lead to have in hockey,” said Emery. “But when we made a mistake and gave up that second-period goal, we really gave them life. There went that three-goal lead.”
That all-important goal was scored by Glowa on a never-say-die play. Chris Bell took a shot up high that Sundberg saved, but the rebound wound up in the slot area where two Superior players stood unmolested.
The first backhand attempt was saved again by Sundberg, and still not picked up by any defensman, Glowa was able to shoot another backhander that this time beat a prone Sundberg up high.
Superior picked up where it left off in the second period, at 2:45 cut the lead to one. Chris Bell fired a shot from the point that Rob Ziemmer deflected past Sundberg.
With over 17 minutes left in the game, it was nailbiting time for the fans and the coaches. Superior put tremendous pressure on the Plattsburgh net, especially in the last six minutes. But thanks to a combination of Sundberg saves, a few lucky bounces, and defensemen clearing the rebounds away, the game remained 4-3 heading into the waning moments.
Superior pulled Ziemski with a minute left, and Josh Liebenow was forced to make a diving soccer-like save to prevent an empty-net goal.
Then with 30 seconds left, Superior came within inches of tying the game.
“We got a designed play to work, got off a shot, and it hit a guy in the back,” said Stauber.
That shot, from the point, appeared headed for the upper corner.
Said Sundberg, “It was going for the corner, their guy stepped in front of it, and tipped it over the net. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
The faceoff then came out to center ice because of a Superior player in the crease. Superior couldn’t control the face and Bryan Murray shot it into the empty net from just inside the red line.
Superior is now relegated to the consolation game.
Glowa said, “This is just tough right now. I want to end up with a win, but this is not the game I want to play in. I’ve been here three years, but we keep coming up short.”
Meanwhile, Plattsburgh will enjoy this win … until the end of the day.
“I always tell the guys to enjoy your game till midnight,” said Emery. “After midnight, you think about your next game.”
That next game, for the national championship, is at 7:00 P.M. Saturday night and will be against the winner of the Wisconsin-River Falls and RIT semifinal.